Last season, there was little to no doubt who was going to earn both the Orioles’ minor league Pitcher of the Year (Alex Wells) and Player of the Year (Austin Hays) awards. This year, the races are much tighter, and despite many people giving left-hander Keegan Akin the award, I am here to tell you not to do that just yet.
First, let me state that I am in no way saying that Akin isn’t deserving of the Jim Palmer Award. Akin had a phenomenal season where he went 14-7 with a 3.27 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and struck out 142 batters over 137 2/3 innings with Double-A Bowie. He was recently named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year and very nearly won the pitching Triple Crown in that league.
Having said that, I am here to make a push for fellow lefty Zac Lowther to get some serious consideration.
Lowther, 22, was simply marvelous all season in just his second year in professional baseball and his first full season. He was selected by the Orioles in the competitive balance round in the 2017 First-Year Player Draft.
The Xavier University product began the year with the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds, where he made South Atlantic League hitters look silly. He went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA and a ridiculous 0.68 WHIP over six starts. He struck out 51 batters and held opponents to a .115 average over 31 innings.
After that kind of dominance, Lowther earned a well-deserved promotion to the advanced Single-A Frederick Keys, where he continued to pitch extremely well. Over 17 appearances (16 starts), Lowther went 5-3 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Over his 92 2/3 innings with the Keys, he struck out 100 batters and held opponents to a .220 batting average.
When you put everything together, over 23 games (22 starts), Lowther went 8-4 with a 2.18 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP over 123 2/3 innings. He struck out 151 batters, walked 35 and held opponents to a .195 batting average. Lowther did not allow an earned run in eight of his 22 starts this season and he recorded eight or more strikeouts in nine of them. One of the statistics I loved seeing from Lowther is that he struck nearly 4.5 batters for every walk he allowed.
Those numbers are impressive and Lowther actually leads all Orioles minor league pitchers (among qualifiers) in both ERA and strikeouts, thus giving him two of the three legs of the pitching Triple Crown in the O’s farm system.
Again, I am not saying that Akin would not be a deserving winner of the Pitcher of the Year award, but Lowther deserves to be in the conversation, so don’t hand that award to Akin just yet.
Josh Michael blogs about the Orioles for Baby Birdland. Follow him on Twitter: @BabyBirdland. His opinions on the Orioles will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s longstanding initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.