As Kyle Stowers pored over video, looking for an explanation for his rut, he didn’t find any cause for concern from his swing. His hand placement was as it always was, as was his load. But once he turned his attention lower — looking to his legs — he found the answer.
So much of a swing is dictated by how the hands and arms move the bat through the zone, the body parts directly related to making contact with the ball. But as Stowers, hitting coordinator Cody Asche, Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton and Tides hitting coach Tim Gibbons pulled up his old video, they realized his legs — where the swing all begins — were the main issue.
“It’s a small change,” Stowers said Friday on a video call. “Nothing too big.”
Except the results were.
Once Stowers began to stand more upright, returning to a stance he’s used for much of his career, the outfielder took off, earning International League Player of the Week honors after clubbing five home runs with an OPS of 1.767. It’s part of a surge that has the 2019 second-round draft pick knocking on the door of the Orioles — even if there’s not much room for him in Baltimore yet.
“All I can really do is just take things day by day,” Stowers said. “Keep getting one step closer to the idealized player that I see myself becoming one day. And if I get a step closer to that each day, then I’m happy with how the day went.”
Stowers has turned around a slump in which he hit .129 over a 20-game stretch between mid-April and early May, but the crowded outfield in Baltimore leaves little obvious place for a promotion.
Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander are fixtures — although Santander, above the rest, could be an attractive trade-deadline acquisition for a contending club. Ryan McKenna has reserved a role as the fourth outfielder, featuring mainly as a defensive replacement or pinch runner.
That’s not a role Stowers would take; the Orioles want top prospects to receive near-everyday at-bats. So Stowers, for now, finds himself in a waiting game, looking for where he fits into an outfield full of young talent.
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He hasn’t let that hinder him. During his torrent week for Norfolk, Stowers hit three homers in one game and knocked in 10 RBIs. This season, his strikeout rate has dropped to 26%. He struck out in 38% of his at-bats last year.
Crouching more was part of the solution. He felt his bat-to-ball skills improved when he was more compact. He called it “low-hanging fruit,” a Band-Aid solution to a tendency to occasionally chase. But it led to weaker contact, so he reverted to his more upright stance to “get some more athleticism back.”
“Ultimately, it wasn’t it wasn’t me and the type of hitter I am,” Stowers said. “It was something that ultimately got away from who I was as a hitter.”
The production from Stowers this season doesn’t come as a shock. The 24-year-old led Orioles minor leaguers with 27 homers last season, playing in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. He shared Baltimore’s Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year Award with top prospect Adley Rutschman, the only qualified hitter in the system with a higher OPS.
His left-handed bat is a plus, too, for an Orioles lineup without many lefties. But how to fit him into that lineup — in the near future and beyond — is more cloudy. It might take an injury or trade to free a spot unexpectedly.
So in the meantime, Stowers doesn’t concern himself with the outlook of the outfield in Baltimore.
“I truly believe that if I take care of my business and play the best baseball I can play that then I’m going to be OK,” Stowers said. “That allows me to truly, truly root for players that I’m in theory competing with, even though for me it doesn’t feel like that.”