Lefthander Zac Lowther’s best work in big league camp came after he was optioned.
The Orioles placed Lowther on their travel roster for a March 24 game against the Red Sox and dumped him in a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth inning.
No sense easing him into the grind.
Lowther, a 2017 second-rounder from Xavier, induced a line drive to second base and double play grounder. He retired all eight batters he faced.
Nine outs recorded on 34 pitches. A manager who was impressed.
“First time I’ve really seen him for an extended period in game action and I thought he really threw the ball well,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I like the way he commanded his fastball, attacked hitters. Threw some changeups for strikes.”
The 24-year-old Lowther doesn’t give up many runs or lack in confidence. He didn’t pitch in 2020 because of the canceled minor league season and hasn’t faced hitters above Double-A, but he expects to be in the majors later this summer.
He made 26 starts for Bowie in 2019 and recorded a 2.55 ERA with 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He surrendered eight homers.
Lowther doesn’t light up radar guns, but his deceptive, high-spin fastball pairs with effective secondary stuff, including a plus curveball, to keep hitters flailing.
“He’s a guy who’s had a really nice minor league career up to this point, put up some great numbers,” Hyde said, “and we would like to see how that translates up here.”
First comes an assignment to the alternate training site and then he will join the Triple-A Norfolk rotation in May.
Lowther spent last summer at the alt site and the fall at instructional league. He sharpened his command and tweaked his mechanics in a controlled environment.
“I wouldn’t say I have a chip on my shoulder, but I do have that sense that I do belong,” Lowther said, “but so does the hitter and I’m not going to take him lightly.”
BOSTON RED SOX
For the Red Sox, spring training offered an intriguing glimpse of one of the more fascinating prospects in the system.
Outfielder Gilberto Jimenez presents dazzling possibilities but with a significant amount of development in front of him, given that the 20-year-old arrived in spring training yet to play full-season ball.
Because Jimenez lost a year of development to the coronavirus pandemic, working out on his own in the Dominican Republic through the summer, the Red Sox wanted to bring him to camp to work with big league coaches and learn a big league routine.
The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Jimenez opened eyes.
Though the switch-hitter is only a few years into employing a lefthanded swing, he delivered competitive at-bats against far more advanced pitchers, going 3-for-13 with a pair of doubles, three walks, a pair of steals and some highlight-reel catches and throws in the outfield.
“He’s definitely trying to learn to swing, but boy he’s got tools,” Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers said. “I’m excited to watch him grow as a player.”
When hitting lefthanded, Jimenez typically slaps at the ball and shoots it to the opposite field, with a notion that his plusplus speed affords him a chance to beat out even routine grounders.
While he’s still refining his outfield routes, Jimenez’s speed already has translated to range that projects as above-average to plus. The 2017 international signee from the Dominican Republic also features one of the strongest arms in the system.
Jimenez is expected to start the season at Low-A Salem. He currently features a contact-heavy approach that yields a high groundball rate, but it’s not hard to imagine him tapping into power.
“He reminds me of Luis Castillo from the left side,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said, referring to the former big league second baseman. “A guy who flies, hits the ball the other way and just says, ‘Try to throw me out at first.’ ”
“There’s a lot of work to do from the lefthanded swing, to running the bases, to making decisions in the outfield. But as far as tools and talent, he’s a good one.”
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and Luis Robert are White Sox players with a common bond.
They all were born in Cuba. The pipeline extends into Chicago’s
minor league system and includes outfielder Yoelqui Cespedes, righthander Norge Vera and shortstop Yolbert Sanchez.
Third baseman Bryan Ramos is another young talent born in Cuba who feels right at home in the organization.
“I think the success that these players have had with us in the past and are currently having with us—it helps,” White Sox international director Marco Paddy said.
“I think that every Cuban player in the market can see how well Jose and Moncada and now Luis have adjusted to our system, and they like the city and the organization.” Having just turned 19 years old, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Ramos is already on the rise with Chicago despite not playing last season because the coronavirus pandemic canceled the season.
Ramos last played in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019, where he hit .277/.353/.415 with four home runs in 51 games while leading the team in runs (36), doubles (10) and walks (19).
White Sox farm director Chris Getz projects Ramos to reach Low-A Kannapolis or High-A Winston-Salem this season.
The 2018 international signee out of Havana solidified his positive status by playing well at instructional league.
“Bryan Ramos is a very strong kid. He can swing the bat, and we signed him as a third baseman,” Paddy said, addressing speculation Ramos will eventually change positions. “He’s a very polished kid. He works hard and he’s got a lot of ability, so I think that the power and defense combination is going to be something special.”
Bo Naylor impressed the Indians leading up to the 2018 draft, when they used the 29th overall pick on the high school catcher from St. Joan of Arc Catholic High in Mississauga, Ont.
Naylor further impressed team officials at the alternate training site last year, and in spring training this year the 21-year-old opened still more eyes.
As a non-roster invitee to major league camp, he went 4-for-10 with a home run.
At Low-A Lake County in 2019, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Naylor hit .243/.313/.421 with 11 home runs in 107 games.
But Naylor’s biggest thrill may have been an early-morning text he got from his mother last Aug. 31.
“Her text said, ‘Your brother just got traded,’ ” Naylor said. “I immediately thought, ‘Oh my God,’ and I said, ‘To who?’ And there was that suspenseful pause between texts and she said, ‘Cleveland.’ My jaw dropped.”
Naylor’s brother Josh was traded by the Padres to the Indians as part of a nine-player trade that sent Mike Clevinger to San Diego. The two brothers are separated by two years—Josh is 23— and both were drafted in the first round.
“All through my life I’ve looked up to him as a role model,” Bo said, “seeing what he’s gone through on and off the field.
“When I found out about the trade I thought, ‘This is really happening?’ It makes you take a step back and appreciate what our lives have come to.”
Now, both brothers admit they are looking forward to possibly playing together in the Cleveland lineup one day.
“To play with your brother, it’s so rare in the game,” Josh said. “When that day happens, I can’t wait for it.”
“You kind of dream of it, growing up,” Bo said.
It’s a moment every baseball player looks forward to. Ask lefthander Tarik Skubal about his major league debut last August and you can hear the smile in his voice.
Skubal’s debut wasn’t without its warts. He gave up four earned runs to the White Sox over a pair of frames, but for the 24-year-old, it was another link in his development and the challenge was a welcome one.
“I thought everything was positive,” Skubal said. “I know I didn’t put up great numbers . . . but you learn from those types of experiences. I didn’t really care about the results. I still don’t. I just want to learn from trying to (see) what I need to get better at and how I need to prepare.”
Where some players would look forward to unplugging for the offseason, the 6-foot3, 215-pound Skubal traveled to Driveline Baseball to attend some pitch design sessions.
“The whole first pitch-design session didn’t really go well,” Skubal said. “I wasn’t very happy with it. I’m like, ‘Ah, this pitch didn’t get that much better.’ And I threw probably 20 different grips and nothing was working. I’m like, ‘Okay, maybe I just can’t do it like some people can.’ “
Fast forward to the second session and a very different result for the 2018 ninth-rounder from Seattle.
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