Frederick, MD. - Left-hander Zac Lowther will get the start for the Single-A Frederick Keys tonight at home against Wilmington. If it goes anything like most of his previous starts this year, he’ll have a good night.
In a combined 13 outings between Single-A Delmarva and Frederick, the 22-year-old Lowther is 6-2 with a 1.47 ERA. Over 67 1/3 he’s allowed just 43 hits with 19 walks, 88 strikeouts, a 0.92 WHIP and .181 batting average against.
So, yeah pretty strong season for the second-year pro. The Orioles selected him out of Xavier last year with the No. 74 overall draft pick - a selection in Competitive Balance Round B.
Lowther has the best ERA of any O’s minor league starter and he is doing it without a mid 90s fastball. His fastball usually ranges from 88 to 92 mph, often sitting 89 or 90. But Lowther’s success is a product of his ability to command his fastball which he may throw sometimes on 80 percent of his pitches. Take that fastball and add in sometimes plus secondary pitches along with a solid work ethic, some smarts and a burning desire to keep getting better, and you have a pitcher having an outstanding season, said his pitching coach Blaine Beatty.
“This guy is really locked in,” Beatty said Tuesday at Harry Grove Stadium. “He brings a really good curveball, a really good changeup and he likes to pitch in with his fastball. And he just has really good depth and movement on his pitches. He has some deception to his delivery. Even when he gets to the middle part of the plate, you see hitters that don’t have really good swings on his fastball. Hitters are under it most of the time and he has good, late life. But deception plays in a lot in what he brings to the table plus the solid quality of his pitches. He’s another pitcher that challenges hitters with his stuff and I like that about him.”
The Orioles are watching his season innings load but so far he’s allowed one run or less in 11 of his 13 starts.
Lowther averaged 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings with 2.6 walks per nine at Delmarva and those numbers are 9.2 and 2.5 at Frederick. He seems to always get strikeouts without the big velocity. In college he led the Cape Cod League in strikeouts in the summer of 2016 and the Big East conference in strikeouts during the 2017 college season.
But will he face challenges as he moves up the ladder without a blazing fastball? Beatty says maybe not.
“For me it’s about pitchability,” he said. “You can have the best velocity in the world and we all know on paper if it doesn’t go over the plate, it doesn’t have a lot of value. I think pitchers that change speeds and work both sides of the plate can have success. That is what it’s all about in this game. Using the top of the zone which is more prevalent today. The value of being able to command the ball is off the charts valuable for me. Pitchability carries a game a long way along with strong makeup and mentality.”
Lowther was the Orioles minor league Pitcher of the Month in both April and June.
Look to the future: Frederick lefty pitcher Alex Wells, from Newcastle, Australia, doesn’t hide the fact that he was pretty stunned recently when he found out he was selected for the World Team roster in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park.
“I was in shock,” the 21-year-old Wells said. “I was on a bus ride down to Carolina and (Keys manager) Ryan Minor came up and told me. It was a shock and I just wanted to tell my family. They are my biggest supporters. It’s still a shock. It’s still setting in.”
Wells went 11-5 with a 2.38 ERA for Delmarva last season and won the Jim Palmer Award as the Orioles minor league Pitcher of the Year. It’s been tougher as he moved up to the Carolina League this season. He’s 3-6 with an ERA of 4.13. That ERA jumped up from 3.29 over his past two starts as he allowed 11 runs in 8 1/3 his last two games.
But Wells is having a solid year and learning a lot in a Frederick rotation that now also includes Lowther, Michael Baumann, Matthias Dietz and Cristian Alvarado. And now he’s headed to the Futures Game.
“It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “It will be another challenge facing the best guys in the minor leagues. It’s going to be fun. I hope to get an inning. I’ve always known about the Futures Game and that a couple of Australian guys have played in it. It’s always been one of my goals to play in the Futures Game like those guys did.”
Wells is proud to represent the Orioles and also his home country this Sunday.
“One of my goals is to make Australia proud and hopefully be the next Australian big leaguer. To represent the Australian baseball community is awesome,” he said.
Double-A Bowie third baseman Ryan Mountcastle will join Wells in the Futures Game and play for Team USA. Wells is the first Frederick player in the Futures Game since Eduardo Rodriguez and Christian Walker in 2013.
Who is Wilson Garcia and why does he keep raking?: When Frederick first baseman Alex Murphy suffered a torn ACL in April and was lost for the season, the Orioles needed a first baseman for the Keys. They went outside the organization and made a minor trade that has helped Frederick in a major way. On May 1 the Orioles purchased the contract of 24-year-old Venezuelan Wilson Garcia from Philadelphia.
Garcia has been, at times in his career, a solid, if not spectacular hitter. But he’s been spectacular at times for the Keys. He had a recent eight-game hitting streak where he hit .469 with nine homers and 18 RBIs. He hit two homers in a game four times in a seven-game span. Not bad for a guy whose career homer high was 13 last year in the Florida State League.
But in 62 games for Frederick, Garcia is batting 322/.357/.589 with 15 doubles, 16 homers and 52 RBIs. He ranks second in the league in batting (to Ryan McKenna now with Bowie), third in homers and first in slugging.
Frederick manager Ryan Minor has clearly enjoyed being the skipper for Garcia.
“You never know what to exepct when a guy changes teams,” Minor said. “But offensively he’s done some things where if he had not been here, I’m not sure where we would be on offense. He’s really brought a presence in the middle of the lineup giving us quality at-bats.
“Being a switch-hitter he’s got a little more power from the left side. He sees more right-handers and his splits are better from that side. He’s got power to all fields. He’s done some damage on the road as well. He is just a big strong kid that has a feel for hitting. His RBI total in the time he’s been here has been impressive.”
Garcia has hit 13 of his homers in Frederick’s hitter friendly park and 15 of 16 versus right-handers. He’s about a year and a half older than the average age for the Carolina League and he may not make many top prospects list, but Minor is pretty high on him. He feels the Orioles brass may need to put him on their radar a bit.
“I think you have to, with the numbers he puts up. Defensively, he’s not going to hurt you but he’s not going to show the range you might like to see from first base. But coming from a different organization from ours and doing what he is doing he’s going to open some eyes a little bit. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and we have to see what we’ve got in Double-A next year. He’s a really good kid, good makeup,” said Minor.