ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The University of Maryland isn’t a baseball factory. The school has put 34 players in the major leagues, and those appearances have been mostly both few and far between, but inside the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse, two former Terps are making history together.
When fast-rising prospect Brandon Lowe, the Rays’ third-round draft pick out of Maryland in 2015, was called up from Triple-A Durham on Saturday, he joined former Terps left-hander Adam Kolarek on the major league roster, marking the first time two Maryland products were teammates at the major league level in 68 years, when Hal Keller and Sherry Robertson played for the Washington Senators together in 1950.
Lowe made his major league debut Sunday, and in Tuesday’s game against the Orioles, they were on the same field together — Kolarek entered the game in the seventh inning and Lowe was the starting left fielder.
“It’s crazy. It’s nice to be able to not only talk about school and stuff with [him], but it’s also getting Maryland on the map really,” Lowe said. “I really think that when you look around baseball, it’s really been changing, especially dating back to when Adam was there. That’s when the program really started turning around and it’s been turning out some very good talent out of there.”
Currently, the Rays’ Maryland duo makes up two-thirds of the Terps’ current big league contingency. St. Louis Cardinals reliever Brett Cecil is the only other Maryland product on a big league roster. And while the school hasn’t produced many major league players, outfielder Justin Maxwell played parts of seven seasons in the majors from 2007 to 2015 and left-hander Eric Milton’s 11-year big league career included 89 wins and an All-Star appearance in 2001.
“It’s very special,” said Kolarek, a Catonsville native. “Growing up in Maryland, I was always a Maryland Terrapins fan in all the sports and then getting the chance to play there, it was definitely at a time when we were rebuilding to be competitive in college baseball. The fact that where the school is at now, you’re proud to see where the program is at now and realize you were a part of the building blocks and being on the ground floor. I think that’s definitely what it’s taken.
“You look at Brett Cecil, he’s a guy who left right when I got there. And to see a reliever get to the big leagues and get a lot of success, it shows that just because you’re not from a perennial school, it doesn’t mean that all the lessons and mental toughness you learned in college playing college baseball, it can’t continue into pro ball and hopefully get you as far as here.”
While Lowe, 24, and Kolarek, 29, missed playing with each other in College Park by five years, some of their college teammates overlapped. But their times at Maryland and their paths to the big leagues were much different.
Kolarek played on three losing teams at Maryland, including a 5-25 team his last year. He was drafted after his junior year, an 11th-round pick of the New York Mets, and pitched out of minor league bullpens for parts of eight seasons before receiving his first big league call-up from the Rays last season.
He didn’t make the Rays’ Opening Day roster this season, but was recalled in early July after posting a 1.70 ERA at Durham. After seven relief appearances with the Rays, he was briefly sent down to Triple-A, but returned last week.
Lowe was a key cog on two of Maryland’s best teams, ones that advanced to the NCAA super regional round in 2014 and 2015. After a redshirt sophomore season when he posted a .978 OPS in 66 games, Lowe was selected in the third round of the 2015 draft and received an above-slot $697,500 signing bonus.
He moved up through the Rays farm system quickly and has emerged as one of the organization’s top prospects after posting a .949 OPS with 54 extra-base hits (31 doubles, one triple and 22 homers) in 100 games between Double-A Montgomery and Durham this season. Lowe hit 14 homers in just 46 games at the Triple-A level before receiving his first big league call-up. While Lowe came up as a second baseman, he’s made a steady transition in the minors to playing left field, where he’s made his first two big league starts.
“Really just hunting a pitch you can do damage to, don’t take that soft contact,” Lowe said of his success at the plate this season. “Find something you can drive and hit it hard and good things are going to happen when you stay aggressive. … It started in the [High-A] Florida State League [in 2017] and I think that really made all the difference honestly. Down there, the fields are huge, the ball doesn’t fly and you just try to drive the gaps. And when you drive the gaps, you can get out in front of one a little bit and hit it to the right part of the field where it’s a little shorter there and it all works out. But really it was staying aggressive and getting a pitch to drive.”
While there are only three Terps currently on big league rosters, Lowe points out there are many more coming up through other minor league systems. In the past five draft classes, 23 Terps have been selected, as many as were drafted in the previous 30 years.
Two former Terps – both of whom played with Lowe — are knocking on the big league door.
Right-hander Mike Shawaryn, a fifth-round pick by the Boston Red Sox two years ago, is ranked seventh among Boston’s top prospects by Baseball America and was just promoted to Triple-A last week after posting a 3.28 ERA in 19 Double-A starts.
Outfielder LaMonte Wade, a St. Paul’s School product, has shown five-tool potential while reaching the Triple-A level in the Minnesota Twins organization. He is ranked Minnesota’s 13th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline.
“I think what’s really cool now is that you look at even the higher levels of the minor leagues now, there’s a lot of Terps players in Double-A and Triple-A who you hope everything goes right for them and then we start being all over the major leagues,” Kolarek said. “I think it’s cool because there’s an underdog mentality that you have a lot of pride that you went to Maryland and you had to fight for everything and every win, and that kind of carries over. Brandon’s not the biggest guy. I’m not the hardest thrower. So you’re still fighting that underdog role.”