Norfolk’s roster contains several players that would immediately make another major league team if given the chance. The talented Tides should provide Baltimore significant reinforcements throughout the 162-game season. The depth represents a once foreign concept around these parts that the Orioles have welcomed with open arms.
Kyle Stowers rejoined Norfolk this week after Baltimore recalled reliever Logan Gillaspie. Stowers managed only two hits in 30 at bats and often looked overmatched at the plate when given an opportunity.
Stowers slashed .253/.306/.418 over 98 plate appearances with Baltimore last season. He entered 2023 with a chance to cement himself in the Orioles lineup but the results never materialized. Now the 25-year-old will attempt to earn his way back to the big league roster.
Brandon Hyde said he had a tough conversation with Stowers, but the sophomore “took it well and he understands it.” Stowers will not need to look outside of the organization for a path back to redemption.
Cedric Mullins joined the Orioles in 2018 and immediately announced his presence. Unofficial team captain Adam Jones pushed the rookie to lead the club out of the dugout, and Mullins became the center fielder of the future that night.
The move may have been a bit premature for the former 13th-round pick, but Mullins eventually lived up to the title. Unfortunately for Mullins, there were plenty of bumps along the way.
Mullins slashed .235/.312/.359 over 170 at bats in 2018, but the wheels fell off during his second year in the bigs. Mullins tallied only six hits in 64 at bats with two of the knocks coming in the same game. Mullins continued to struggle at Norfolk and actually received a second demotion to Double-A Bowie.
Mullins bounced back to slash .271/.315/.407 over 48 games during the pandemic shortened season, and everyone knows what happened next. Mullins abandoned switch hitting and immediately became an All Star with a 30/30 season.
Stowers may not have a trick like that up his sleeve—here’s hoping he does not require another demotion to Bowie either—but he should appreciate a player clawing his way back to glory. It’s one thing to hear it, it’s another thing to see examples of guys developing in the same organization.
Ryan McKenna slashed .183/.292/.266 in 169 at bats during his rookie season. McKenna’s defense provided opportunities for late-inning appearances, but he rarely generated optimism at the dish. McKenna slashed .154/.250/.218 against lefties in 2021.
McKenna went back to work and eventually became a weapon against southpaws. He scratched his way into a platoon with Mullins last season and has continued to mash lefties this year. McKenna has battled a sore back over the last few days, but the 26-year-old entered this week batting .308 after 39 at bats.
Stowers may not perfectly align with either player, but he will have an opportunity to follow their leads. Both players bought into the developmental process in the organization and worked extremely hard to get back to Baltimore.
All three outfielders could be impacted by the pending arrival of Colton Cowser. Mullins is a bonafide MLB center fielder, but Cowser will force his way to Baltimore at some point this season. It remains to be seen how Baltimore will integrate Cowser at the big league level and how it could impact the trio.
The organizational depth stacks the deck against Stowers. Mullins, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays start on a routine basis, and McKenna has thrived as the fourth outfielder. Terrin Vavra has manned the outfield corners from time to time, and Jordan Westburg has appeared in both right and left field at Norfolk.
Still, no big leaguer should ever back down from a challenge. McKenna outlasted former top prospect Yusniel Diaz, and Mullins took a significant risk when he ditched hitting from the right side.
The Orioles are not giving up on Stowers. Young players struggle at the big league level. Some figure it out on the major league roster, while others require additional time on the farm. Stowers can reflect on a few success stories in the same organization while striving to carve his own path back to Baltimore.