Kyle Stowers has been on hot streaks before — what kind of high-level hitter hasn’t?
What the Orioles outfield prospect enjoys about this one, which is opening eyes since he arrived at Double-A Bowie last month, is how tough it has been.
“I think the nice thing about it is I’m hitting the ball over the fence a little more than I have in the past, at a more consistent rate, but I think at times in the past when I’ve gotten hot, it’s come a lot easier, which is good,” Stowers said. “Right now, I feel like I’m grinding. I’m working through issues every day. I’m making adjustments every day, and I haven’t gotten to a place where I’m very [settled].
“When I get in the box each game, I feel comfortable and I feel confident and I’m battling with what I have that day. That’s what made this stretch special.”
That, and the prodigious power. On a team with top prospect Adley Rutschman, it’s Stowers who’s impressing Bowie manager Buck Britton with just how hard he hits the ball, and how often — and how quickly — it can get out of the park.
“He’s probably got the most power on the team, and that’s including Adley,” Britton said. “He’s long and lanky at the plate and the ball flies off his bat. We keep track of, like, exit velocities, balls over 95 [mph] and he’s exceeding everybody. Now, he doesn’t have as many balls in play here as some of our guys, but when this guy hits the ball, it comes off hot.”
Stowers, the 71st pick in the 2019 draft out of Stanford, came with the pedigree of an athletic power-hitting outfielder with some of the highest exit velocities in the NCAA that year. He began this season at High-A Aberdeen, where he played short-season ball in 2019, and hit. 275 with seven home runs and a .900 OPS in 36 games to earn a promotion to Bowie.
He’s been the Baysox’s hottest hitter since, entering Thursday batting .311 with a 1.009 OPS and six home runs in 26 games.
“I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth because it’s been just a little time here, but this guy has a chance to be a big player,” Britton said. “It’s big-time power. He’s athletic. I’ve really been pleasantly surprised with how he’s performed up here.”
Those performances are a prime example of the benefits the Orioles feel they can get when drafting college hitters early in the draft. Stowers posits that many amateur players like himself get some of their major struggles out of the way early in their time on campus and learn how to cope with that before taking off later in their college careers.
It’s also, in the same way that this year’s Orioles top pick Colton Cowser had to grow into his bat-to-ball skills at Sam Houston, an opportunity to get stronger and improve. The tall, lean Stowers said he never lifted weights until college. He had a chance to catch up while at Stanford and saw the ball start to come off his bat harder.
He also dedicated most of his training while home last year during the coronavirus pandemic to getting stronger once he wasn’t added to the roster for the Orioles’ alternate training site in the summer. He believes strength training is an area where there’s plenty of room to grow and improve, and values the tangible progress that can be made in such efforts.
Same goes with one of his favorite aspects of being an Orioles farmhand: the data-driven swing-decision training the team is emphasizing for its minor league hitters.
“Being able to drive the ball is something I’ve always been able to do, and I think with what we’ve been teaching here with swing decision and trying to get our A-swings off, that kind of fits perfectly into what I want to accomplish and helps me focused on getting the right pitches to drive and do what I think my ability best suits for,” Stowers said.
He’ll never get cheated on his leveraged left-handed swing. When he strikes out, it’s because he chases pitches outside the zone. But when he makes contact in the zone, it’s often hit hard. Sometimes he’ll hit the ball so hard to the right fielder that a play at first base is possible. Other times, he’ll hit it so far over the right fielder’s head that the defender won’t even move.
The key, then, isn’t giving in and swinging at pitches he can’t drive. It’s a work in progress, with 89 strikeouts in 62 games this year, though Britton said Stowers has been more direct to the ball since coming to Bowie. And on nights like Tuesday, when two of those strikeouts are looking at pitches on the outer half of the plate that are harder to drive, the Orioles’ swing-decision system might ultimately see them as good takes.
“What I love about focusing on approach and swing decisions, stuff like that, is yes, mechanics are important and something that needs to be addressed, and you can work on them in your early work, offseason, whatever people’s time and place for that is,” Stowers said. “But swing decision is a controllable [thing], you know what I mean?
“In a game, you have such little control with umpires or a pitcher just has a really good day, you hit a ball right back at somebody, you can always look back at your swing decision with the pitches you swung and the pitches you took and you have an objective measure that is a controllable. There’s not too many of those in baseball.”
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
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