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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Kyle Stowers

Kyle Stowers is fresh off a dramatic first big league home run. Hopefully it’s the first of many for the Orioles.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles
Kyle Stowers’s arrival in Baltimore was anticipated. He hasn’t homered yet.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

How he arrived: Drafted by Orioles in 2020 draft, CB B round, #71 overall, contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk 8/19/22

Who left: Rylan Bannon placed on waivers and claimed by Dodgers, 8/8/22

Back in the days before there was anything good to be said about the performance of the 2022 Orioles, it was not hard to sketch out some playing time for a prospect like outfielder Kyle Stowers. A hopeless team trades away its closer-to-free agency players to start giving out opportunities to its near-MLB prospects.

Even an optimistic opinion about this team would have been something like, “Anthony Santander will be healthy and good enough to be traded,” not, “The Orioles are still in the wild card race in late August.” A pessimist might have seen a chance for playing time for Stowers if either Austin Hays or Santander spent a lot of time on the injured list.

As we all know, this is not how the 2022 season played out. The Orioles are good. No outfielders were traded away and Hays, Cedric Mullins, and Santander have all played in at least 112 of the 124 Orioles games this season. For the season, none of the trio has an OPS+ below 109, meaning they’re all slightly above league-average hitters.

Where do you fit Stowers in there? Other than the four games in June where Santander was legally prevented from entering Canada due to his lack of a COVID vaccination, they didn’t. And even then, Stowers only played in two of those four games, to the consternation of many, including me. Why have a prospect join the then-bad Orioles and not, you know, evaluate him?

At the trade deadline, the departure of Trey Mancini seemed like it might open up a spot if Santander played at DH more, but then the Orioles ran a 17-day Brett Phillips experiment. Only after Phillips was designated for assignment did Stowers, the #8 prospect on our recent composite O’s prospect ranking and at that time the leader in home runs among O’s minor leaguers with 19, get a regular place on the big league roster.

Let’s rewind on Stowers a bit. He was the third player picked by the Orioles in the 2019 draft, after Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson. With those two players making their way to the top of prospect lists, it’s already looking like a great draft class. Hopefully Stowers can add more. The Orioles drafted him out of Stanford; he was the first of three players the O’s chose from that year’s Stanford team. Catcher Maverick Handley, a sixth round pick, may also show up from the O’s 2019 Stanford contingent.

Within six months of being drafted, Stowers was a top 10 prospect in the Orioles system on rankings like FanGraphs, sitting in the same tier (but ranked below) other outfielders Yusniel Díaz, Austin Hays, and Ryan McKenna. It is the early FanGraphs scouting report (pre-2020 season) on Stowers that has always stood out in my memory:

Stowers swings so hard that he looks like he’s going to corkscrew himself into the ground. The Bellingerian cut makes Stowers’ whiffs seem worse than they are, and also make his dingers aesthetically pleasing.

Who doesn’t want to get some aesthetically pleasing dingers? The reference to Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers was more interesting when we were closer to his 2017 Rookie of the Year campaign with 39 homers in 132 games, and his 2019 MVP season where he hit 47 dingers and posted an OPS over 1.000.

Since then, Bellinger has a .654 OPS, putting himself on the Chris Davis rapid conveyer belt towards the end of his career even though Bellinger’s only 27. Bellinger had already won the ROY and MVP before he was the same age that Stowers is right now.

As for Stowers, he certainly delivered the dingers when finally given a crack at a full season in the minors last year. Stowers combined to hit 27 home runs across three levels - Aberdeen, Bowie, and Norfolk. That included 17 homers in 66 games at Double-A Bowie. He also delivered the strikeouts! Stowers had 171 strikeouts in 530 plate appearances, which is a strikeout rate of 32.3%.

In 2022, the strikeouts are down and the homers remained substantial. He’d homered 19 times in 95 Norfolk games on being promoted to the roster last week and his strikeout rate is down to 25.6%. The time has come for the Orioles to figure out if this prospect is one to etch in stone for the future, and to figure this out while they’re trying to chase down a wild card spot.

One thing that makes it easy is that Santander belongs at DH: Statcast numbers show Santander in the 4th percentile of Outs Above Average, which is another way of saying 96% of MLB players are better defenders than Santander. Getting him out of the outfield will improve the pitching. The left-handed batting Stowers will not be harmed by the new wall like has happened to Hays and Ryan Mountcastle. If he finds his groove, he can park dingers on the flag court.

Until the ninth inning last night, Orioles fans had gotten a taste of the Stowers strikeouts and not much else. He has struck out 11 times in 25 big league plate appearances. That’s 44%. But then he took an 0-2 pitch and blasted it into the bleachers in center field to tie up a game that the Orioles eventually won, sprinting gleefully around the bases. It was a heck of a moment for a first big league dinger.

Just about every rookie has had a hard time at the plate to start out during this season. They all need to adjust. Some are more capable of this adjustment than others. Stowers is not one of the guys who the prospect writing class would consider guaranteed to make the leap. He was never a top 100 prospect. The obvious flaw always loomed. Between now and the end of the season on October 5, we should get a chance to see whether Stowers is one of the ones who can make the crucial adjustment.

Still to come: Phoenix Sanders