New season brings opportunity for young pitchers like Zac Lowther

He got a taste of big league camp with the Orioles in Sarasota last season. Now as a new season is about to begin, Zac Lowther is ready to leave his home near Cleveland and head south. He’s a bit leaner than last year, and after a 2020 season spent trying to get better without games, looks forward to putting his best forward soon at Ed Smith Stadium.

The 24-year-old lefty has quite the minor league resume. An All-Star with short-season Single-A Aberdeen in 2017, the O’s co-Minor League Pitcher of the Year (with Keegan Akin) in 2018 and an Eastern League All-Star in 2019.

Lowther was one of the best pitchers in the league in that 2019 season at Double-A Bowie, going 13-7 with a 2.55 ERA, a .197 average against and a WHIP of 1.11. He led the Eastern League in wins and strikeouts and was second in ERA. Nice follow-up to his award-winning 2018 season.

His velocity may not be big, but his confidence is. Lowther is by no means cocky or overconfident about his talents, but after success in college at Xavier, in the Cape Cod League and over three years in the minors, he has shown he belongs on the O’s 40-man roster, where he was added in November.

Thumbnail image for Lowther 2568 1.jpg“I wouldn’t say I have a chip on my shoulder, but I do have that sense that I do belong,” Lowther told me in a recent Zoom interview you can watch in full at the end of this entry. “But so does the hitter and I’m not going to take him lightly. They are there for the same reason I am. But I’m going to stick with what I’ve practiced for all these years.”

He throws his fastball anywhere from the high 80s to the low 90s, but always seems to strike out a lot of batters. A combination of good spin rates, some deception and good extension toward the plate have made that fastball play up. MLBPipeline.com ranks him as the O’s No. 11 prospect and puts 55 grades on both his fastball and curveball.

“While it is great to throw hard, I still take pride in throwing strikes, being able to command the zone with all my pitches and keep the hitter off-balance,” Lowther said. “I’m not Michael Baumann, throwing 100 (mph) with a wipeout slider. But the organization takes into account we both have good results and do it differently.”

Lowther was a non-roster invitee to O’s camp last season before the sport was shut down by the pandemic in mid-March.

“But having that experience (from last year) and knowing what to expect is big. I’m excited to kind of get another crack at big league camp and take advantage of it,” he said.

Lowther was added to the O’s 60-man player pool at Bowie last year on Sept. 4. He said his time there and later at instructional league provided him quality time to work on his game even without pitching in any games.

“All summer, I worked on myself, my development without outside competition,” he said. “Being able to go to Bowie, get a read on what I was doing and how it was working was a lot of help. Just being able to see the results I had there in a controlled environment.

“And then going down to instructs, you kind of just keep working on that and being able to understand what your body is doing and understand the end goal. And then work to get there. I had some mechanical changes I wanted to make, some command additions I wanted to make. I made a lot of strides and was very happy with the result that came from it. Those controlled environments are probably the most beneficial for development and exactly what I needed this past year.

“Was trying to be more consistent with my delivery. In the past, I threw a lot of pitches and that came from being inconsistent with the delivery standpoint. As a starter, you want to go as deep as you can. The less pitches you waste, the better off you will be come the seventh, eighth and ninth inning.”

Taken No. 74 overall in the 2017 draft out of Xavier, where he led the Big East conference in strikeouts, Lowther explained what was his biggest priority for improvement in the last year.

“Nutrition and health was No. 1,” he said. “I was able to lose a little weight and get in better shape for the upcoming year. After that, it comes down to baseball - just being consistent with your workouts. For me, pitch design was a big key to it. Making sure I’m controlling the changeup with the movement that I want. Being able to throw my curveball consistently with the way I needed it to be. Then the fastball has always been there, so just being able to really command whenever I wanted, is something I looked for in my bullpens.”

Lowther has three seasons of solid numbers on the O’s farm. In 61 games, he is 23-13 in his career with a 2.26 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. He has averaged 3.01 walks with 10.49 strikeouts per nine innings. He led all O’s minor leaguers in strikeouts in 2018 and 2019.

He has yet to pitch at Triple-A and that could certainly come this year. His day to get a shot in the Baltimore rotation is drawing closer. He said the data and analytics the young pitchers have been exposed to under the Mike Elias front office has been a real plus organization-wide.

“I think everyone in our organization has benefited in one way or another from the plethora of knowledge that these guys bring,” Lowther said. “And they are always willing to help you and create it to such an individual level that it is not a master plan. What works for Zac Lowther, what works for Michael Baumann, what works for Alex Wells. And they really sit you down, and it’s like, ‘This is where you have success, this is what we think you can work on.’ It’s a good mix to help you get the best results possible.”

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