Veteran catcher, strong rotation put Baysox on top

We could not have expected this when the Double-A Bowie Baysox were 7-23 on May 5. That was the worst record in all of minor league baseball. But the Baysox have been winning big ever since, and they were 20-7 in June and are 12-3 in July. They are 44-21 since that low point and have the Eastern League’s best second-half record at 21-6.

There are many reasons they charged into first-place in the second-half Eastern League race. A solid offense led by guys like Mason McCoy, Rylan Bannon and Yusniel Diaz. Some solid defense by the club. But the pitching - especially the starting rotation - probably produces the most excitement among Birdland.

Young pitchers will be so huge during the Orioles’ rebuilding, and fans can look to the current Bowie starting five and dream of a better day in Baltimore.

Three of Bowie’s five young guns are homegrown Orioles, and the two others were acquired during the July trades last year. All five could eventually pitch at Camden Yards.

And catcher Carlos Pérez has been a hidden gem of sorts. He’s a veteran of 212 major league games, but is now in Double-A. But instead of pouting that he’s not in the bigs, he’s been mentoring the young rotation and showing them how to pitch and win. It’s like having a second pitching coach on the field.

“He’s been special,” Bowie manager Buck Britton said yesterday. “I’ve played with guys that have a lot of (service) time and they come down and are bitter. He’s back in Double-A, but for us, Pérez has been special. He’s helped solidify our lineup. But what he has done with this pitching staff and guiding these young pitchers through games, it’s overlooked more than it should be.

“First off, he knows how to call a game. He knows how to get guys back in the strike zone when they get loose a little bit. He understands how pitchers should attack hitters. Reading swings. Very rarely do you see a pitcher shake off Carlos Pérez. He knows how to slow the game down. If you see things spiraling out of control, he goes out there and calms pitchers down. He is a very calm, steady player, and that is big for us.”

Now a closer look at the young guns from Bowie.

Alex-Wells-Bowie-Baysox-Delivers-Black-Sidebar.jpgAlex Wells: The Orioles signed the 22-year-old lefty out of Australia for $300,000 in August 2015. He was named the 2017 O’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year and pitched in the 2018 Futures Game. He’s been a mid-season All-Star at four different levels. At Bowie this year, Wells is 8-1 and leads the league in ERA at 1.95. Over 87 2/3 innings he has walked 18, fanned 66 and allowed a .216 batting average.

Wells throws a fastball, curve, slider and changeup and pitches from 87 to 91 mph most often. He just recently added a slider to give hitters another pitch to have to think about.

Britton on Wells: “Wells is a guy that has had to prove himself at every level without a blow-it-by-you fastball. But this kid can pitch and he’s fearless. He is not afraid to throw a 90 mph fastball inside and he’s got a big breaking ball to keep hitters off balance, and he’s working on a slider that has come a long way and helps him against lefty hitters.”

Bowie pitching coach Kennie Steenstra on Wells: “The one thing Alex does so well is work really fast, and he’s always attacking the zone. He’s not afraid to throw any of his pitches in any count. He keeps his defense really engaged and keeps the hitters off balance with continually mixing pitches and locations. Guys just don’t get real comfortable off him. He’s got some sneakiness and deception (with his delivery) and his fastball gets on guys. We’re continuing to work on his changeup and slider. You can’t argue with what he has done so far.”

Zac Lowther: Taken No. 74 overall in Competitive Balance Round B of the 2017 draft out of Xavier, the 23-year-old Lowther was the O’s Minor League co-Pitcher of the Year last season with Keegan Akin. Lowther is 10-5 with a 2.54 ERA for Bowie that is third in the league. Over 92 innings he has walked 43, fanned 88 and has a .191 average against.

He throws a fastball, curveball and changeup, and he is usually 88 to 92 mph.

Britton on Lowther: “He’s among the top of the league (at seventh) in strikeouts. He does that with a swing-and-miss fastball. He’s got a high spin rate and good hop on his fastball. Guys swing and miss at it. He is still developing his breaking ball and his changeup. But I think he’s got something special in that fastball that gives us time to develop those (other) pitches and keep his numbers where they’re at.”

Steenstra on Lowther: “I’ve been really impressed with how his changeup has developed. Early in the year it was a little firm and straight, and he’s been able to soften that up and add some movement to it. It’s been a weapon to not only the righties but lefties. And his curveball is really coming on. He dominated some left-handers with that in his most recent start.”

Bruce Zimmermann: This 24-year-old Baltimore native was acquired last July 31 in a trade that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta. He is a graduate of Loyola High School and pitched at two colleges, including Towson University. Zimmermann is 4-3 and his 2.77 ERA over 17 games is fifth-best in the Eastern League. Over 94 1/3 innings he has walked 33, fanned 97 and allowed a .229 batting average against.

Zimmermann features a fastball, curve, slider and changeup. He’s throwing 90 to 94 mph.

Britton on Zimmermann: “He’s kind of like Wells, with a little more on his fastball, and he’s got a really good changeup. Really good changeup. So he is a fastball-curveball-changeup guy. But his fastball-changeup combo has been solid for him.”

Steenstra on Zimmermann: “Bruce is a real competitive guy with a four-pitch mix and really good changeup. He came here last year as more of a sinker-changeup guy, and we’ve developed more of a four-seam, changeup, slider. He’s even mixing in a curveball. His velocity has ticked up from when he was traded over here. He is not afraid to pitch in or throw any pitch in any count. He’s been real durable and gives us everything he’s got.”

Dean Kremer: The 23-year-old right-hander was acquired from the Dodgers in the July 18, 2018 Manny Machado trade. He led all minor league pitchers in baseball in strikeouts in 2018. He missed the first month of this season due to an oblique strain. But he’s beginning to make up for lost time and threw seven scoreless innings in Bowie’s 1-0 win last night. Over 11 Bowie starts he is 6-4 with a 3.34 ERA. In 62 innings he has walked 17, struck out 60 and allowed a .252 average.

Kremer also has the four-pitch mix and throws from 90 to 95 mph.

Britton on Kremer: “He got off to a slow start with the injury. He’s got a swing-and-miss breaking ball. Because he was slow to start, right now it’s a little inconsistent. But you can see at times a swing-and-miss breaking ball. He knows how to pitch with that breaking ball.”

Steenstra on Kremer: “He is just now rounding into form. Curveball has really come along, and I think that was the pitch that was eluding him early on to get the feel for that. He’s been really good here lately, and we are working to get him back to where he was last year. He’s still a little shy, location-wise.”

Michael Baumann: He was drafted by the Orioles in round three of 2017, No. 98 overall. The 23-year-old pitched the third nine-inning no-hitter in Baysox history on Tuesday night. He began this year with a 3.83 ERA in 11 starts at Single-A Frederick. In five games since he moved to Bowie, he is 2-1 with a 0.33 ERA. In 27 innings, he has walked eight, struck out 32 and allowed a .116 average.

Baumann throws the four basic pitches, with a fastball from 92 to 97 mph most often.

Britton on Baumann: “Big boy. First thing you notice when he is out there. That is the way a pitcher is supposed to look. Big boy. He has got a big-time fastball that comes over the top, and he creates serious angle on that heater. And when he’s on, he’s got a swing-and-miss slider. I think with him the changeup and curveball are what he is really focusing on right now, but his fastball-slider combo has been solid.”

Steenstra on Baumann: “He was fantastic the other night. An imposing guy on the mound with good velocity, but also a feel to pitch. Everything was working for him Tuesday. I was most happy to see him get to the seventh, eighth or ninth and he was still throwing some pitches he probably wasn’t most comfortable with, and here he is in the midst of a no-hitter still throwing them and doing what we’ve asked him to do. He has really bought into everything we are trying to get him to do, and any time a guy is doing that, you’ve got to tip your hat to him.”

Steenstra said his rotation pitchers are not only talented, but work very hard to keep getting better.

“These five starters are as dedicated as it gets,” he said. “They are out here each day working to get better. That is a tough thing to instill in somebody. You have to have that to begin with. There is a never a day I have to push these guys to go out and work. They are committed to get better, and our whole staff has been that way. It’s been a pleasure to be around them.”

Added Britton: “This staff is, arguably, the best staff in the Eastern League. There are a couple of teams that have some good arms, but the consistency we have one through five has been pretty impressive. All five of these guys have pitchability. And if they stay healthy, all five have a chance to get to Camden Yards.”

“It’s very exciting,” said Wells. ” We’ve got a good group of guys here that are all working to pitch for Baltimore. Hopefully, we carry this up through the ranks and one day are pitching at Camden Yards together.”

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