BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Kyle Stowers stood in the on-deck circle, preparing to bat in a NCAA Tournament Regional game for Stanford when he experienced a moment that would forever change his life.
As Stowers was readying to face Fresno State pitching, his teammates informed him that the Baltimore Orioles drafted him with the 71st overall pick. Stowers embraced each player, sharing in the unique memory, while a national audience witnessed in amazement.
“I was in the middle of a game, playing in the fourth or fifth inning and I had a good idea I was going to get picked that day but didn’t know for sure,” Stowers said. “I knew it was a possibility I would get picked during the game, but when I went on deck, I had no clue.”
“My head coach David Esquer, tapped me on the shoulder and said I’m the 71st pick. Then my teammates came over and started hugging me, and the crowd at Stanford gave me a standing ovation. The common thought is that you get to hear your name called on TV, but the moment was just as special.”
Two years earlier, the thought of Stowers hearing his name called in the MLB draft appeared remote at best. His freshman season at Stanford presented many challenges, chiefly a struggle to make consistent contact and remain in the starting lineup. Stowers batted just .103 with a .205 slugging percentage in 19 games. The hope was for Sowers to take over for outgoing junior outfield Quinn Brodey, who turned pro with the New York Mets.
“I learned how to struggle and how to fail,” he said. “The main thing is not overthinking and rebounding from tough weekends and tough at-bats. I never really failed before in high school. It wasn’t that I was overmatched in college, but when things got tougher, I never experienced that feeling before. I sped things up in my own mind, and I needed to relax and calm down, which took more than the first year.”
For Sowers to attain his eventual goals, he needed to figure out a way to alter his approach at the plate. He noticed he needed to improve his plate recognition by drawing walks and getting himself into more favorable counts.
Coupled with a greater familiarity for Pac-12 pitchers, Stowers began driving the ball with authority as a sophomore, ranking among the team leaders in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. His progress continued with the Falmouth Commodores in the Cape Cod League, batting .326 and represented the circuit in the All-Star Game.
“The big thing I learned my sophomore year was finding the level that I needed to get at to play,” Sowers said. “I needed to be relaxed. If I do too much with my swing, it affects my mechanics.
“Going into the Cape, I followed the same approach playing against the best of the best in college, and I started playing well. The biggest difference in the Cape was being more confident that I was the best player on the field every time I stepped on it. I have to have that belief to get to my best.”
Brimming with confidence and no longer fighting to salvage his collegiate career, Stowers recorded a .871 OPS in his junior season and evened his strikeout-to-walk ratio. His stout defense resulted in All-Pac-12 defensive honors and a spot on the Golden Spikes Watch List.
In roughly two years, Stowers went from feeling overmatched as a fledgeling college athlete to one of the top players at his position in the conference. Much credit lies with Stanford head coach David Esquer, who had the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Mark Marquess in 2017.
“(Esquer) was really relational, and I think that was the big thing was that he cared about me as a person just as much as a player,” Sowers said. “He gave every player the freedom to play their game and to be who they are on the field. I think that was a big thing for me.”
A key aspect of Stowers’ success at the plate is a tendency to drive the ball to all fields and lets his hands come through the strike zone on an even plane. He combines his approach with improved selectivity while seeking to enhance his contact rate and avoid strikeouts. Defensively, Stowers can play all three outfield spots, and has the necessary running speed to play center field. His anticipation and instincts enable him to get good jumps on the ball and occasionally make a difficult catch.
“I played the outfield my whole life. I grew up playing center, and I was always comfortable there,” he said. “I flipped to the corner outfield spots more in college. Your instincts develop from playing in games itself and experience. It becomes a little more natural. Not necessarily something you think about, but something you work on before games and you trust your instincts.”
Stowers opened his professional career with Orioles’ short-season affiliate in Aberdeen, where he reached base in five of his first six games at a .391 clip, showcasing the characteristics which served him well with Stanford.
The Aberdeen Ironbirds figure to generate great attention later this summer when first overall pick Adley Ruschman joins the club. Rutschman, the best catching prospect according to scouts in at least a decade, played against Stowers in the Pac-12 at Oregon State, and Stowers looks forward to playing alongside him in the Orioles’ farm system.
“It will be fun to play with Adley (later this summer). We actually played together one summer after our junior year of high school in the Tournament of Stars in North Carolina,” Stowers said. “He is a great guy and obviously a great baseball player too, so I’m excited to get to know him even more, and hopefully we share our experiences together.”
After suffering their worst season since 1988, the Orioles find themselves in a position to rebuild their farm system and endure the challenges of reconstructing a franchise. The club believes that the position players taken in June’s draft can serve as pillars for the future with the Orioles yearning for positives.
The challenge of developing in an organization with a seemingly blank canvas is a thrilling one for Orioles’ prospects, who hope to become critical parts of the team’s return to prominence.
“It is exciting. Everybody wants to be a big leaguer, obviously, and more importantly you want to win a World Series,” Stowers said. “Those shared accomplishments as a team is something you will remember for the rest of your life. Sharing moments like that is what makes playing baseball so special. Camden Yards is a beautiful facility, and hopefully, I can get there one day.”
Read a MLB draft profile on Kyle Stowers written by Dan Zielinski III here.