O's recall Stowers, activate Hays, option Kjerstad to Triple-A

May 13th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles’ outfield mix was shaken up Monday afternoon prior to the team’s 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Camden Yards.

Baltimore swapped left-handed bats, recalling from Triple-A Norfolk and optioning (the club’s No. 4 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 23 overall prospect). Then, the O’s swapped righty bats, activating (left calf strain) from the injured list and designating Ryan McKenna for assignment.

The moves may not impact the Orioles’ starting outfield on many nights, with Colton Cowser in left, Cedric Mullins in center and Anthony Santander in right, as they were Monday.

Kjerstad, who debuted in the big leagues with a 13-game stint last fall, didn’t get a ton of playing time after being recalled by Baltimore on April 23. The 25-year-old went 2-for-14 over seven games, four of which were starts.

The Orioles want Kjerstad, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, to get more consistent reps at Triple-A, where he’s slashed .310/.385/.554 with 23 doubles, five triples, 20 homers and 62 RBIs in 97 games over the past two seasons.

“Just the way our outfield configuration is right now, we feel like it was important for him to go play every day, get everyday at-bats,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “This was a good experience for him, to get up here for a couple weeks, get a couple starts, get some pinch-hit opportunities.

“But just where we are health-wise in our outfield -- which is pretty strong -- we feel like we want him to go play every day, because he’s a big part of our future going forward and somebody we really believe in. I’m sure he’ll be back up here soon.”

The decision to send down Kjerstad benefited Stowers, who returned to the Majors for the first time since he was optioned on May 15, 2023. The 26-year-old was a second-round Draft pick in 2019, then reached the big leagues in ‘22, where he slashed .253/.306/.418 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 34 games.

In 2023, Stowers made Baltimore’s Opening Day roster, but he didn’t get much playing time. He went 2-for-30 in 14 games and never made it back to the big leagues after returning to Triple-A. He later missed time due to a fractured nose and a right shoulder injury.

In a “full-circle moment,” Stowers recalled how he learned he was being sent down last year on Mother’s Day, then learned he was getting called up on the holiday this year, finding out after Norfolk’s game at Memphis on Sunday. He was eager to be back in the Orioles’ clubhouse on Monday afternoon.

“Anyone who’s gotten a taste of the big leagues, this is where you want to be. When you’re not here, you’re doing everything you can to get back,” said Stowers, who slashed .240/.315/.541 in 36 Triple-A games this year. “I feel ready. I feel ready to help this team win. Whatever my role is, whatever I’m called to do, just going to go out there and give it my all.”

Stowers’ power could be valuable off the bench; he hit seven home runs in 14 games during an impressive Spring Training with the Orioles, then slugged 11 homers in Triple-A over the past month-plus.

Does Hyde envision Stowers playing more frequently than Kjerstad did?

“It’s day to day. I don’t know that, honestly,” Hyde said. “Right now, we’ve got four other outfielders, plus [first baseman/designated hitter Ryan] O’Hearn. It’s a good problem to have that we have a lot of guys playing really well.”

Baltimore hopes Hays, an All-Star in 2023, will get going and strengthen that group. The 28-year-old struggled before going on the IL, hitting .111 (5-for-45) with two RBIs and a .311 OPS in 19 games. He went 5-for-14 (.357) with one double, two homers and three RBIs during his five-game rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie.

McKenna was DFA’d for the second time this year, as he cleared waivers during the first week of the season. During his most recent stint with the O’s, the 27-year-old went 3-for-8 (.375) with two homers and two RBIs in nine games.

“He is a clubhouse favorite and well-liked in the dugout and the clubhouse with the energy that he brings,” Hyde said. “I’m hoping for the best for him, honestly, whether that’s getting claimed by another team or back in Triple-A with us.”