‘The odd couple’: College roomates Zac Lowther, Rylan Bannon excited to share Orioles’ 40-man roster

In some ways, Xavier baseball coach Billy O’Conner was surprised how well Zac Lowther and Rylan Bannon got along during their time as Musketeers.

Lowther was Xavier’s ace left-hander and “the ultimate teddy bear,” as O’Conner put it, describing him as “one of the happiest kids I’ve ever been around.” Bannon was more reserved, focused and detail-oriented as the Musketeers’ star infielder. O’Conner said he was “the toughest player I’ve ever coached.”


“They’re a little bit kind of like the odd couple,” O’Conner said. “In the good sense.”

Friday, the former college roommates added an item to the list of what they actually have in common: Both were among the six prospects the Orioles added to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. The transaction positions them well to make their major league debuts at some point in 2021.


“It’s been really cool, especially getting added with Zac,” Bannon said. “That’s definitely a huge stepping stone in everybody’s career, and we’re thankful to have this opportunity.”

The stuffed animal side of Lowther fades on the mound. After posting a 3.18 ERA at Xavier, the Orioles drafted him 74th overall in 2017. Despite lacking high-tier velocity, Lowther has thrived as a professional with a 2.26 ERA across four levels while striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took Bannon, the reigning Big East Player of the Year, in 2017′s eighth round. In the middle of his first full season, he was part of the package sent to the Orioles for star infielder Manny Machado. Despite not playing a game in the California League after mid-July, he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Bannon reached Triple-A in 2019, putting up a .893 OPS in a 20-game stint.

A week after both were drafted, O’Conner took over as Xavier’s head coach following six years as an assistant, having watched both players grow during their time as Musketeers. They weren’t teammates again until 2019 with Double-A Bowie, when they were again roommates.


Both returned to Bowie in 2020 as participants at the Orioles’ alternate training site. After being added to Baltimore’s player pool a day apart in early September, they had a few chances to face each other, enjoying “some good battles down there,” Bannon said. Almost three months later, they find themselves on the 40-man roster despite dealing with this season’s atypical format.

“I did everything I could to put myself in a good position,” Lowther said. “I was confident in what I had produced in the past couple years. I felt like I did everything I could. In the back of my mind, there was still that, ‘I don’t know what the organization’s gonna do.’ These things are always kind of nerve-wracking for any player. To be selected, that kind of just gives me a lot of confidence.”

Orioles pitcher Zac Lowther throws live batting practice during spring training in February.
Orioles pitcher Zac Lowther throws live batting practice during spring training in February. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Ask O’Conner, and he didn’t need it. Even his freshman year, Lowther took the mound expecting to dominate, O’Conner recalled. That wasn’t the case with Bannon.

Standing at 5-foot-8, Bannon batted .194 with no home runs as a freshman. He spent the offseason in the weight room — a routine he said he repeated this year during the sport’s coronavirus shutdown — then hit .273/.390/.473 his sophomore season. That same year, he made a play that O’Conner believes changed the direction of the program.

With the Musketeers leading St. John’s 1-0 in the middle innings of a Sunday rubber match, the Red Storm got the tying run to third base. A sharp one-hopper was hit toward Bannon at third base; he took the grounder off his neck but recovered in time to hold the runner and get the out at first. The Musketeers got out of the inning and finished off the victory, improving to 16-26. They won 16 of their next 20, winning the Big East tournament and earning the first of what became back-to-back regional final appearances.

“That singular play, to me, embodies who Rylan is,” O’Conner said. “The guy will do absolutely anything for the team, and when you see the guy that’s probably one of the two most talented players on the team playing like that, laying their body on the line, doing whatever it takes, that sets the tone for everyone else. If this kid’s doing it, we all have to do it, too.”

The next year, Bannon had a 1.082 OPS, the confidence O’Conner saw in Lowther finally taking form in his roommate.

“He’s not the biggest kid in the world,” O’Conner said, “but he carries himself like he’s 6-foot-8 when he steps in the box.

“Both those guys, I would qualify them as program-changers for us. From a culture standpoint, these guys elevated the level of play for us, elevated the work ethic, elevated the toughness.”

Infielder Rylan Bannon catches a ball during infield drills during spring training practice in February.
Infielder Rylan Bannon catches a ball during infield drills during spring training practice in February. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said he believed that Bannon would’ve been selected in the Rule 5 draft had Baltimore left him exposed, noting his offensive production in the minors and ability to play multiple positions in the infield.

Bannon has played mostly third base at Xavier and in the minors, with some work at second base, as well. He said he spent a lot of time at the Orioles’ fall instructional camp on the right side of the infield.

“They seem to like me over there,” Bannon said. “I think that’s definitely another position I can add to my arsenal. The past few years, pro ball, I kind of stuck at third more than second, but I like having second base in my pocket, and I feel good over there.”

Elias said Bannon will contend for a job in the Orioles’ infield out of spring training, adding that there are varied opinions on what Bannon’s best position is. Although O’Conner believes it’s third base, he also has seen enough of Bannon to know it doesn’t matter.

“He’s a ballplayer,” O’Conner said. “I think you could put him at third, at second, at short, in center, behind the plate, probably on the mound and the kid would figure it out.”

The last of those would give him something else in common with Lowther.

“Having him along for the ride since 2018 has been really, really cool,” Lowther said. “We have that roommate bond.”

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