Confidence isn’t running in short supply for Zac Lowther.
He didn’t pitch in 2019 because COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the minor league season. He hasn’t faced hitters above the Double-A level. Every projection for this summer places him at Triple-A Norfolk, where he’ll be playing the waiting game between starts.
But ask Lowther how close he is to being a major league pitcher and the answer comes firmly and without hesitation. But also not cocky in nature.
“I feel like I’m there. The only thing stopping me right now is not being on the roster,” he said this morning in a Zoom call.
There’s more to it.
“Just being able to kind of go out there and compete with those guys and practice with them every day, I feel like I am there,” he said. “The environment that these guys have made for me in our group - I’ve got John Means, I’ve got Shawn Armstrong, just those guys, they create the environment of the major league status, so just feeling like I fit in there has helped my mindset in that way.”
Being really good also contributes to it.
The Orioles placed Lowther on the 40-man roster to protect him in the Rule 5 draft, with his body of work in the minors earning him a spot. The former second-round pick out of Xavier University is 23-13 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.018 WHIP in 61 outings. He’s averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
In 26 starts with Bowie in 2019, the left-hander was 13-7 with a 2.55 ERA, 1.115 WHIP and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He surrendered only eight home runs.
Who needs a high-octane fastball?
Lowther, 24, produces a high spin rate, and his deception and effective secondary stuff - including a plus curveball - have kept hitters flailing and frustrated throughout his career.
MLBPipeline.com ranks Lowther as the 11th-best prospect in the system, while Baseball America puts him 17th.
In his only spring appearance, Lowther tossed a scoreless inning with a hit and walk in Clearwater, Fla.
“We’re going to give Lowther a long look,” manager Brandon Hyde said afterward. “He’s a guy who’s had a really nice minor league career up to this point, put up some great numbers, and would like to see how that translates up here.”
Lowther has a pretty good idea.
“I think going into the spring, it’s the same thing every year, get ready for the season,” he said. “Hearing him say that, it’s nice, coming here, first-year 40-man guy, just trying to make the team any way possible. But hearing the manager say that is nice, it’s a compliment. But I’ve still got to build up to my innings as a starter, so whether I get into games or whether I’m on the back fields, I know they always have eyes on me. So just being able to go out there and get my work in is still really important and making the team, it’s either going to happen or it’s not going to happen, so just got to stick to the route.”
The absence of minor league games last year challenged Lowther to keep progressing and refining his pitches at the alternate camp site and fall instructional camp. But the offseason was far more “eventful,” as he put it, with the purchase of a house with wife Brianna and the birth of their daughter, Isabelle.
“We were very busy,” he said. “On the baseball side of it, we tried to replicate some games back home in Cleveland during the summer and then as much as you could, try to get innings in. But as soon as I got to the alternate site, we really wanted to work on a lot of my off-speed pitches and being in the zone more. So in between the alternate site and instructional league, I did a biomechanics scan. I was able to pinpoint some stuff that I lacked and being able to take those deficiencies out of my delivery, it helped me get more out of my body with doing less.
“So it’s just going to help the body in the long run and I was really happy that we could make those changes.”
Today’s game between the Orioles and Blue Jays in Dunedin is eight innings. The Saturday night game versus the Tigers is nine innings.