O's prospects Lowther, Bannon have history

Newly minted 40-man roster additions rising through ranks together

November 24th, 2020

When the Orioles added six prospects to their 40-man roster on Friday to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, it represented another chapter in the parallel journeys of and . Rarely do two players climb the professional baseball ladder in such lockstep.

“It’s been really cool, especially getting added with Zac,” said Bannon, the O’s No. 25 prospect per MLB Pipeline. “That’s definitely a huge stepping-stone in everybody’s career, and we’re thankful to have this opportunity.”

Don’t take the “we” for granted there. It was far from the first baseball milestone Lowther and Bannon have enjoyed together. On the field, the burly left-hander Lowther and undersized infielder Bannon could not be more different. But consider the similarities in their résumé points:

• Lowther, who was raised and still lives in the Cleveland suburbs, and Bannon, who is from outside Chicago, both cut their teeth in the cold-weather baseball world of the Upper Midwest.

• They were roommates at Xavier University, leading the Musketeers to consecutive NCAA Tournament Regional Finals appearances before both were drafted, six rounds apart, in 2017.

• Their paths converged again in 2018, when the Orioles acquired Bannon from the Dodgers as part of their five-player package for Manny Machado.

• After the trade, the O’s immediately sent Bannon to Double-A Bowie. He was there when Lowther, whom Baltimore selected in the second round, reached the level two years later.

“Rylan has been with me since college, and having him along for the ride since 2018 has been really, really cool,” said Lowther, the O’s No. 11 prospect. “We had that roommate bond in college and got to live together last year, so that was really, really cool, too.”

This year, both Bannon and Lowther were primed to spend the summer at Triple-A Norfolk with an eye toward reaching the Majors as early as 2021. That’s still looking likely now, even though ‘20 did not go according to script for anyone. Lowther and Bannon spent the year training at the O’s alternate training site in Bowie, Md., and then at the team's Sarasota instructional camp, before being added to the 40-man -- along with Yusniel Diaz, Michael Baumann, Alexander Wells and Isaac Mattson last week.

“That was probably the most beneficial two months I’ve had in baseball in a long time, in terms of development,” Lowther said. “When you’re there, you don’t have that desire to get better as well as compete. Sometimes you get both of those at the same time, and they get crossed up, and one or the other suffers. Having those two camps this year gave me an opportunity to work on stuff without having to worry on results, and that was very beneficial to me.”

Another added benefit was allowing Lowther to recover from a left oblique injury he suffered during the shutdown. The Orioles are intrigued by the right-handed power of Bannon, who hit 33 home runs across three levels from 2018-19, using ‘20 to get him extra reps on the right side of the infield after seeing him mostly at third base previously. Debate remains in prospect circles about Bannon’s best position; at the very least, he profiles as a serviceable option at several for an organization that values versatility.

Speaking after the roster moves last week, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said both should arrive by next summer: Lowther as rotation depth and Bannon as a candidate to make the club out of Spring Training.

If the old college roommates do reach the Majors in 2021, it could be within days of one another.

“I did everything I could to put myself in a good position,” Lowther said. “I was confident in what I had produced in the past couple years. I felt like I did everything I could.”