This weekend’s unexpected promotion of left-handed pitcher Zac Lowther continued the Orioles’ integration of their prospects onto the major league roster.
Fifteen of the players on the 26-man roster have never played for a major league team other than the Orioles, and 10 are products of the Orioles’ farm system.
“We’re getting a lot of guys from the system, which is what you wanted,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “You start getting a healthy organization when you start calling up your own guys. Some guys that come from our own organization are starting to get to the big leagues.”
Last year, outfielder/first baseman Ryan Mountcastle was among those who made their major league debut. So far this year, Lowther and outfielder Ryan McKenna have played in the big leagues for the first time. Outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart have gotten more extensive looks in the past two seasons.
“You’re going to see more guys along the way,” Hyde said. “We’re starting to improve as an organization when you start to graduate your own players.”
Bruce Zimmermann, who was acquired in a trade from Atlanta in July 2018, made his debut late last year but isn’t a pure product of the farm system. Neither are Dean Kremer or outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who were acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Manny Machado in July 2018.
Lowther’s addition might be temporary, but even if it is, he’ll be back soon. The Orioles haven’t named a starter for Wednesday’s game against the New York Yankees.
Kremer, who was optioned to the alternate training site at Bowie on April 18th, will be eligible to return on Wednesday. The Orioles also could start Lowther, who began his major league career with a scoreless ninth inning against Oakland on Sunday in the Orioles’ 8-1 victory that ended the Athletics’ 13-game winning streak.
Lowther might not have gotten the call if Keegan Akin, another Orioles draft choice who made his debut in 2020, had been available. Akin, who is at the alternate site, cut his left index finger in a kitchen accident and will have sutures in his finger for a week to 10 days.
It’s possible that Akin, Kremer and Lowther could join Zimmermann and John Means in a homegrown rotation later in the season, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
Lowther’s promotion was surprising because he had yet to pitch in Triple-A, which starts up again on May 4th after a year’s shutdown because of Covid-19. Two other prospects, right-hander Mike Baumann and left-hander Alexander Wells, will pitch in Triple-A for the first time this season and could be candidates to join the Orioles later in the season.
Hyde said that Lowther’s addition was because the Orioles needed a pitcher who could throw multiple innings in the bullpen. It would be a throwback if the team decided to keep Lowther in the majors and use him mostly in the bullpen this season.
In the 1970s, the team introduced some of their best pitchers in team history — Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor — to the major leagues by putting them in the bullpen at first, and then having them start.
It was easier then because the Orioles had so much starting pitching that they could afford to do that.
Without the pressure to win now as the team continues to rebuild, the Orioles could do the same with Lowther and perhaps others.
Since Lowther didn’t pitch competitively in 2020, and his time at the alternate site was limited, his innings’ limit could be even lower than those of Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and Hyde want to see how good their prospects are without exposing them to undue risks.
Some fans thought that when rightfielder Anthony Santander went on the 10-day injured list because of a sprained left ankle, Diaz would get his shot. Instead, it was McKenna getting a second chance.
The sense here is that Elias wants to see Diaz play daily at Norfolk, the level at which he would have played last year. The difference between Diaz and Lowther is that the Orioles have multiple outfielders — Santander, Hays, Mountcastle, Mullins and Stewart — that the team wants to see play extensively. Adding Diaz to that mix wouldn’t allow the others to get enough playing time.
With few starters pitching six innings, the Orioles are always needing help in the bullpen, and Lowther might be a low-risk venture.
It’s exciting to see new players debut and have success. The rest of 2021 promises to see more debuts of potential starters and relievers along with the hope that perhaps better days are coming soon.