Stowers back on O's radar after big year

October 2nd, 2021

TORONTO -- The Orioles' farm system rose to the top of MLB Pipeline’s rankings in 2021 on the strength of its top prospects, headlined by MLB No. 1 Adley Rutschman and baseball's top pitching prospect, Grayson Rodriguez. But those aren’t the only two players in the system to be excited about.

For a prime example of that depth, turn to . The surfer-haired, sweet-swinging Stowers, Baltimore's second-round Draft pick in 2019, showed as much growth as any prospect in the system this summer, jumping three levels and leading the Orioles' Minor Leaguers with 27 homers. He shared the organization’s co-Player of the Year honors with Rutschman and will enter '22 knocking on the door of the big league roster.

“It’s been a wild year, especially coming off of no baseball for a full year,” Stowers, Baltimore's No. 11 prospect, said this week at Oriole Park. “The nice thing about the year off was it forced you to put things back in perspective. I went into the year with no expectations and just let myself enjoy baseball again. Playing with that no-pressure mindset helped me a lot through the season.”

Stowers is one of a handful of Orioles who will play in the upcoming Arizona Fall League, along with Yusniel Diaz (the organization’s other participants will be announced Monday). They will be there for different reasons and on different trajectories. The organization’s top prospect for years, Diaz -- now ranked No. 12 -- stalled at Triple-A Norfolk this year amid injuries and inconstancy, hitting .159 in 63 games. Stowers shook off a tough first season of pro ball and excelled, posting an .897 OPS in 123 games. Most of that damage came at Double-A Bowie, where Stowers hit .283/.377/.561 with 17 homers in 66 games.

All told, it was the kind of upper-level production the Orioles haven’t seen from an outfield prospect in recent memory, at least during general manager Mike Elias’ three-year tenure. And it was extra encouraging to the organization after Stowers struggled at Low-A in his first season in 2019. Arriving from Stanford that summer, Stowers hit just .215 with little power in 55 games at Aberdeen, then was not part of the club’s alternate training site activities in '20. His AFL assignment is considered a way to make up for some of that lost time.

“He had a big, long, full season, a terrific season, starting in High-A and getting all the way up to Triple-A and playing pretty well in Triple- A,” Elias said. “But he did miss a lot of at-bats last year, not being at our alternate site and not having the season, obviously. So to us, I think this is just a way to inflate the number of plate appearances that he got, despite having a really long, really, really good season, and a good way for him to continue to see some upper-level pitching.”

Come winter, how the Orioles handle Stowers could reflect his timeline going forward. The club does not need to add him to the 40-man roster this November, but it is expected to do an abnormal amount of shuffling in that regard. The O’s do not have a player signed to a guaranteed contract for 2022; they could have as large as an eight-man arbitration class, and they will need to protect at least four top prospects -- left-hander D.L. Hall (No. 3), infielder Terrin Vavra (No. 13), righty Kyle Bradish (No. 8) and lefty Kevin Smith (No. 14) -- from the Rule 5 Draft.

Even if Stowers isn’t a part of that mix, it’s not difficult to envision him arriving alongside Rutschman and Rodriguez sometime in 2022’s first half, especially if all three get off to hot starts at Triple-A. He’s also a candidate to receive an invite to big league Spring Training, as Elias confirmed Rutschman and Rodriguez will.

“I have a high belief in myself as a player and what I can do on the field,” Stowers said. “Any validation of the work you put in is super special. And to win it alongside Adley, one of my best friends, I think that makes it even more special to share [the award] with him.”