After minor tweak, Tides’ Kyle Stowers finds major success

·4 min read

He doesn’t wear a double-billed hat or smoke a crooked pipe, and he doesn’t have a sidekick named Watson.

But make no mistake: Tim Gibbons is a bit of a detective.

The Norfolk Tides’ second-year hitting coach uses film study, advanced metrics and his own naked eye to get to the bottom of what ails a slumping hitter. And then, unafraid to ask for the help of his fellow staffers, he works deep into the night as he goes about solving the mystery.

Call him the Horatio Caine of hitting.

Perhaps no recent case brought more of a breakthrough than that of outfielder Kyle Stowers, an elite prospect who had lost control of the top of the strike zone.

Gibbons, first-year manager Buck Britton and Baltimore Orioles upper-level hitting coordinator Cody Asche convened as an informal committee to identify the problem. Gibbons went to work on finding the solution.

The result: The 24-year-old Stowers went on a tear that earned him last week’s International League Player of the Week award.

After a small tweak, Stowers hit .480 with five home runs, three doubles and 10 RBIs during a six-game series at Charlotte, including a three-homer game in the finale.

It all came after Gibbons and the committee urged Stowers to stand taller in the box.

“It’s a little more athletic position for me,” said Stowers, a 2019 second-round draft pick out of Stanford and MLB.com’s eighth-ranked Orioles prospect. “It’s a small change, nothing too big.

“Playing in Charlotte helped. The ball flies pretty well there. It’s a good park to hit in.”

The series began with Stowers batting .202 and ended with him batting .258.

Gibbons, an analytics junkie who usually stays up until 3 a.m. watching film and trying to crack the complex code of metrics, explained in detail what makes Stowers successful.

“He’s a really good hitter,” Gibbons said. “He has an elite swing decision, so he controls the zone at a high rate. His batted-ball production is elite, so when he does make contact, he hits it hard and at good ball flight. So it’s just about making more contact in the zone on pitches he should be. So he’s seeing his contact rate go up and his K percentage go down. It’s something we were shooting for. You saw it right away, kind of when it started coming together in the cages.”

Working together to figure Stowers out, the three staffers translated the numbers to determine that he hadn’t been handling pitches at the belt or higher.

Britton noticed that Stowers’ stance had gotten wider since spring training, lowering his core and thus altering his swing path.

Such meaningful adjustments aren’t always so simple.

“They can be,” Britton said. “When you’re kind of launching from a different position as a hitter, your swing path can change, for sure. But that’s what makes Gibby and these guys so good. He’s not afraid to come and ask a question: ‘Hey, what do you see from Stowers?’

“Gibby loves every one of these guys. He’ll do whatever for them.”

Stowers, a native of the San Diego area who sports bushy blond hair, could be among the next wave of prospects who finally arrive in Baltimore.

He’d join catcher Adley Rutschman, a fellow 2019 draftee who left Norfolk for the Orioles last week.

Rutschman’s departure, Stowers said, was potentially a good sign.

“I think for a lot of us, guys around his age, draft class and what not, it’s definitely a boost of confidence to see that there is that opportunity,” Stowers said. “But at the end of the day, all we can do is just take care of ourselves each day and get a little better and see what happens.

“All I can really do is just take things day by day, keep getting one step closer to the idealized player that I see myself becoming one day. If I get a step closer, then I’m happy with how the day went.”

The recent tweak might’ve been one giant leap, and few things make Gibbons happier.

After looking under Stowers’ hood, he, Britton and Asche may have closed the case.

“It takes video. It takes the numbers,” Gibbons said. “There’s a lot that goes into it. But if he doesn’t trust it, then it won’t go anywhere. So credit to him for trusting that we kind of formulated a good plan for him.

“When you see a guy who kind of went through a little bit of a slump and then broke out of it in a big way, it’s the most gratifying thing as a coach, for sure.”

David Hall, david.hall@pilotonline.com