Josh Stowers was all set and ready for 2019. Or so he thought.
The speedy outfielder had a strong first season of professional baseball with the Everett AquaSox of the short-season A Northwest League after being drafted in the second round of the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft. He had just spoken to the Mariners about plans for 2019 when he received a phone call two days later.
“I was actually in my car just leaving a drug test and my former field director from the Mariners, Andy McKay, called me and asked me how I was doing and if I had a moment to talk and I said, ‘Yeah.’ He just told me, ‘Just letting you know, we traded you to the Yankees. Someone from the Yankees will be in touch,’” Stowers recalled.
Stowers journey to professional baseball started when he excelled at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. Mount Carmel is known for having a great athletics program with notable alumni in all sports. Chris Chelios, Denny McClain, Donovan McNabb, Simeon Rice, and Antoine Walker just to name a few.
Stowers wasn’t concerned about what had happened before he arrived though, he was more worried about his path.
“I went to Mount Caramel not really knowing anybody. I was more focused on baseball when I was going there. I was just trying to make a name for myself there and we won a state championship my sophomore year,” Stowers said.
Being a key component on a championship team certainly drew the attention of college baseball scouts. Stowers had plenty of options when it came down to pick a school before settling on the University of Louisville.
“Pretty much the majority of the Big Ten, a couple of SEC schools. Talked to Ole Miss, Texas A&M, University of Miami. I really just chose Louisville because it was close to home, about four and a half hours away. The ACC, this is the time they started getting really good. Just a program I really wanted to be a part of,” Stowers explained.
Stowers excelled at Louisville where he had a career .323 batting average and a .449 on-base percentage. During his junior season with the Cardinals, Stowers swiped 36 bases and only struck out 37 times in 62 games. He ended up collecting First Team ACC Honors and Third Team All America. Stowers was a lock to be drafted.
Before the draft, Stowers thought he knew which team he would be going to and what his signing bonus would be even. His family gathered at his cousin’s house in Louisville to watch the draft and celebrate with his family, included his mother and father who drove from Chicago. His name was called a little earlier than expected.
“I really hadn’t talked to the Mariners much in the draft process. I had a deal lined up with the Twins going in the second round and then the Mariners came in a couple of picks before them and offered the same amount of money so that’s how it all went down,” Stowers said.
As far as the decision to sign or go back to Louisville, Stowers had his mind made up, “It wasn’t a hard decision to make when you go in the second round. It’s life changing money and life-changing opportunities. Coming back for my senior year would have only been considered if I had gotten drafted in the later rounds.”
With his college career behind him, the Mariners sent Stowers to Everett to start his career. Stowers had a strong season slashing .260/.380/.410 to go along with 20 stolen bases in 58 games. The biggest adjustment he had to make was to the schedule and the travel.
“Northwest League travel is definitely tough. The average trip is like five hours or more. The closest trip was Vancouver which was just up the road. The hardest part was getting used to playing every single day. In college, you play probably Saturday, Sunday, have Monday off, midweek. Then Wednesday, Thursday. Playing seven days a week was the hardest part.”
Stowers came over to the Yankees in exchange for Shed Long, who was acquired from Cincinnati as part of the Sonny Gray deal. Stowers had help right away fitting in from his friend, former Yankee farmhand Josh Rogers.
“I knew a couple of guys in the Yankees organization and I’m friends with Josh Rogers who was with the Yankees. He was telling a bunch of guys to look out for me and introduce themselves. As soon as I got there, I started making friends right away.”
The Yankees also got Stowers into camp early to get him acclimated to his teammates and coaching staff.
“I felt (comfortable) by the time spring training had started. I was down there so early and was able to meet everybody and get used to the coaching staff and how the Yankees run their organization,” he said. “ It was kind of easy transition I would say because the Yankees got me down there so early and we were playing in intrasquad games and things like that before spring training and that helped a lot too.”
Stowers has looked comfortable in his first season with the Yankees playing with the Charleston RiverDogs of the Low A South Atlantic League. So far he’s slashed .257/.356/.404 with 16 stolen bases in 56 games so far.
The RiverDogs coaching staff deserves the credit for his season.
“I love our coaching staff. They’re always looking to help. Whether it be from our manager Julio (Mosquera) giving me tips on what to look for, what the pitching sequence and stuff with him being a former catcher. Our outfield coach Cisco (Francisco Leandro), he’s helping with my steps and direction, just overall a better outfielder. Our hitting coach (Greg Colbrunn) is helping me a lot. Just being better engaged into my lower half and being more consistent at the plate. Chappy (Travis Chapman), he’s kind of a base stealing guru. He helps give me times and stuff in the dugout. Working on the first step. Being able to use that so far and rack up some stolen bases. It’s all working so far,” Stowers said.
Stowers leans on his family to get through the ups and downs of a long season. His father Clarence Stowers is the Senior Pastor at Mars Hill Baptist Church in Chicago. Along with his mother Shauntai, they provide a strong support system. “You always need a good support system and just having both my parents in my life and involved in the game and knowing the game helps out a lot especially when you struggle. Sometimes you don’t want to talk about your coaches about your struggles. You want to talk to who’s comfortable and that helps a lot.”
Of course, the goal for Stowers is to fulfill his dream of playing Major League Baseball, but the motivation runs deeper than that. “Playing in the majors is the ultimate goal. You don’t play in this game just get to the majors, you play because you love it. Ultimately, if you fall out of love, that’s when you see guys hang it up.”