After big ‘21 season, Kyle Stowers heads to AFL

“Stowers Power” was indeed a thing on the Orioles farm in 2021.

Lefty-hitting Kyle Stowers led all O’s minor league players in homers and RBIs, and was third among full-season players in OPS. It was a breakout year for the corner outfielder who turns 24 in January. Tomorrow, he will join seven other O’s players on the Mesa Solar Sox when the Arizona Fall League season begins.

Stowers and Adley Rutschman were co-winners of the Brooks Robinson Award as the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year for ‘21.

The No. 71 overall pick out of Stanford in 2019, Stowers was the Orioles’ third pick in that draft following Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson.

During a one-on-one interview with Stowers late this summer at Bowie, it was apparent to me that he is a player that very much embraced the teachings of the O’s minor league hitting coaches this year, and he played under three of them, advancing from high Single-A Aberdeen to Double-A Bowie and ending the year playing 22 games with Triple-A Norfolk.

And how he’s about to get even more reps in the AFL. It’s an indicator perhaps of both how much the Orioles like his talents and how close he is getting to the major leagues.

In 124 games on the farm for the IronBirds, Baysox and Tides, Stowers batted a combined .278/.383/.514/.898 with 23 doubles, one triple, 27 homers and 85 RBIs.

Stowers led the O’s farm in homers while moving up twice. This presented him both challenges and opportunities this season.

Thumbnail image for Stowers-Hits-Bowie-White-Sidebar.jpg“Obviously, I have a high belief in myself as a player and what I’m capable of doing on the field,” he said. “But, you know, that being said, wasn’t necessarily expecting anything in terms of moving up. It’s been fun to kind of experience different coaches, different levels, different players. And then having good friends at each level has been a lot of fun. There is a special group of people in this organization, and everywhere you go, you are able to fit right in, get comfortable, and it’s made an easier transition onto the field.”

During an August interview at Bowie’s Prince George’s Stadium, Stowers discussed a time in his career when his confidence got a major positive jolt. It was the summere of 2018, when he emerged as a top talent in the summer Cape Cod League, playing for Falmouth after his sophomore season at Stanford. He hit .326 with six homers and was ranked as the league’s No. 14 prospect.

“It was kind of a time in my baseball career where I just didn’t feel like I was - I felt like I could be a great player,” he said. “That was probably the highest belief I had in myself during that stretch. It established a level of confidence that I carry with me to today, even when times aren’t going well. Feeling like my potential is high, my best days are ahead of me and I still have so much room to grow. That summer was a good reminder to me that I could play at a high level.”

Stowers’ power produces bat speed and premium exit velocities, but also a high strikeouts total. But the pop is very legit, Bowie manager Buck Britton told me.

“When this guy barrels the baseball, it is loud,” said Britton. “Every time he touches the baseball, I feel like it comes off his bat at 100 mph. When he hits it, he hits like a big boy. It is big boy pop.

“The next step is to try and get him to make contact a little more consistently. I think there is a lot of swing and miss in there. A lot of it is chasing out of the strike zone. So the focus for him, just like it is for everybody, is trying to teach that swing decision. He’s getting better, for sure.”

No doubt continuing to work on swing decisions is among the reasons Stowers is still playing ball starting tomorrow. He fanned 171 times this year and that led all O’s minor leaguers, too.

While he had a very good walk rate of 13.8 - fourth-best among O’s full season players - his strikeout rate was 32.3, one of the highest as well.

So there is work to do for a player ranked as the club’s No. 11 prospect by MLBPipeline.com and No. 17 via Baseball America.

During the earlier interview with Stowers, he discussed the challenge to chase less and make good decisions with his swing while at the same time trying to get off his A-swing every time.

“In a game where there is not many things you can control, the pitches you swing at is something you can,” Stowers said. “We get graded on not what the umpire is calling, but what we are swinging at based on what the strike zone actually is. Some umpires may have a little tighter zone or bigger zone, but it doesn’t change the objective measure we go by. From there, it is trying to produce hard contact and trust that the more times you put good balls in play, all the stats will go as you like to see them.”

That is essentially the key theme on the O’s farm for hitters - make good swing decisions, always produce your A-swing and do max damage by putting good swings on hittable pitches consistently.

As a player driven to always find ways to improve, Stowers keeps working on his game, in search of that perfect game or perfect at-bat.

“As a baseball player, I always have that naïve belief that my next at-bat is going to be the one where I figure it all out. And if it’s not, it’s the next one or the next one,” he said.

And as for Stowers’ quest to swing and miss less, thereby providing more opportunities to produce damage at the plate, Bowie hitting coach Ryan Fuller said he’s confident Stowers will succeed.

“I have no question that he is going to make the adjustments to cut down on his strikeouts and make harder, consistent contact. He is a guy you don’t want to bet against,” said Fuller.

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