TORONTO — As Kyle Stowers began to press at the plate early this season for Triple-A Norfolk — overly aware of the at-bats that ended in outs — his stance started to change for the worse. He wanted to perform at a high level, not just for himself and his goal of reaching the major leagues but for his teammates.
A change a few weeks in helped him break out of his funk, and the change wasn’t purely mechanical. That was a big part, of course, standing more upright in his stance to be more “athletic,” as Stowers described it.
But Stowers also got out of his own way — and now he’s making his major league debut for the Orioles in Toronto, playing left field and batting eighth against the Blue Jays on Monday at Rogers Centre.
“If that type of stretch would’ve happened last year, it would’ve taken me a lot longer to get out of it,” Stowers said. “But to be able to be the same guy every day and keep my head held high, put in the work, it makes things a lot easier to get out of.”
Through the first 26 games of Stowers’ season for the Tides, he hit .193 with three home runs and 25 strikeouts. Then the 24-year-old Stanford product embarked on a nine-game hitting streak, which led to a breakout in his last 23 games for Norfolk. In that stretch, he hit .314 with a 1.144 OPS, clubbing nine homers and driving in 24 runs.
Those performances backed up the No. 9 ranking Baseball America gives Stowers in Baltimore’s pipeline, and he will become the third top 10 prospect to make his debut for the Orioles this season, joining right-hander Kyle Bradish and catcher Adley Rutschman — and all three of them are playing Monday.
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Stowers feels his largest leap between last season, his first full minor league season, and this year is getting used to playing every day. After he was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft, he went without a 2020 season because the coronavirus pandemic canceled the minor league campaign. By now, he understands the everyday grind professional baseball involves.
And he understands how critical letting the past go can be.
“I’ve just been a lot more steady mentally,” Stowers said. “I’ve been able to flush at-bats, flush games and be the same person every day, which I think that’s been the biggest key for me thus far. I just haven’t been panicking.”
He’ll need to lean on that new mentality Monday night when he takes the field at Rogers Centre for his major league debut, with his mom, his fiancée and his fiancée’s parents in the stands watching. It can be a lot for any player.
Stowers received the opportunity as a substitute player after outfielder Anthony Santander was added to the restricted list. There’s no guarantee Stowers will remain with the club after the four-game series in Toronto.
“It’s super unrealistic. You want to relax, but the nerves are going to be on edge and he’ll have some anxiety, of course,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’ll be nervous. Hopefully he can transfer that into some positive swings and help us out. But I want him to just enjoy it and relax as much as he possibly can and do what he was doing in Norfolk.”
Hyde was referring to the production at the plate from Stowers with the Tides. But the mental aspect is just as important, especially on the biggest night of his professional career so far.