Career Profile: Jed Lowrie
Jed Lowrie was a pleasant surprise for the Boston Red Sox last year. After struggling for two years with wrist injuries and a viral infection, he got healthy enough to play 55 games, collect 171 at-bats, and hit .287/.381/.526 for the Red Sox. The sample is small, of course, but from a purely personal perspective, I was glad to see this.
In 2008 I took a gamble on Lowrie, giving him a Grade A- and rating him as the Number 10 hitting prospect in baseball. You can read some of the pros-and-cons about this decision inthis piece from January '08. Let's take a look at his career thus far and what might happen in the future.
Jed Lowrie was a supplemental first round pick in 2005, out of Stanford University. He signed quickly and made his pro debut for Lowell in the New York-Penn League, hitting .328/.429/.448, with 34 walks against just 30 strikeouts in 201 at-bats. He was very effective in college, but not everyone felt that his swing would work in pro ball, and there were concerns that his range and arm strength might force a shift to second base. However, he had no problems in his first look at pro pitching, and I gave him a Grade B- in the 2006 book. I liked his combination of plate discipline, a low strikeout rate, and good pop for a middle infielder.
An ankle injury limited Lowrie to 97 games for High-A Wilmington in 2006, where he hit .262/.352/.374. He didn't show much power, but he continued to control the strike zone very well, and Wilmington is a tough hitting environment. I lowered his rating slightly to a Grade C+ in the 2007 book, but noted that I was still rather optimistic about his bat. I was more concerned about a possible shift in positions lowering his value.
Lowrie began 2007 with Double-A Portland and broke out with the bat, hitting .297/.410/.501 with 65 walks and 58 strikeouts in 337 at-bats. Promoted to Triple-A in late July, he remained hot with a .300/.356/.506 mark. On the season, he hit a combined .298/.393/.503 with 47 doubles, 13 homers, 77 walks, and 91 strikeouts in 497 at-bats. Reviews of his defense were mixed. He didn't make an excessive number of errors, but many scouts continued to pan his range, though the Red Sox themselves said they thought he could remain at shortstop. I was extremely impressed with the bat, and bought into Boston's idea that he could be at least adequate with the glove.
As I wrote in the January '08 piece linked above:
I can see the case to make him a Grade B+. He turns 24 in April, and there are still some questions about his range at shortstop. The comment assumes that the Red Sox are right about him being able to remain at short. But on the other hand, the points I make in the comment remain valid. He does have a shot at increasing his power beyond where it is. He's been a very productive hitter at every stop, except when he was injured in 2006. I love his combination of strike zone judgment and pop. He's also fundamentally sound, intelligent, and has good "make-up," hard attributes to measure but there nonetheless.
Here's the deal though. At one point I almost changed him to Grade B+. But something held me back. This isn't scientific, of course, but my instincts say to leave him at A-, that he's got a chance to be better than even the optimists expect right now. Sometimes such gut feelings can lead us astray, of course, but I also think that such feelings are often due to pattern recognition working on a subconscious level
Those instincts sure looked bad for awhile. Lowrie split '08 between Triple-A (.268/.359/.434) and Boston (.258/.339/.400 in 81 games, 260 at-bats). He wasn't terrible for the Red Sox, showing good plate discipline and power to the gaps. His defense was better than expected (at least according to Fangraphs), and he posted a 1.9 WAR. However, it wasn't an outstanding season, and lots of people gave me flak about the grade. Several people accused me of "East Coast Bias" in my rating of Lowrie. I always find that amusing, being a Midwesterner born and bred.
Lowrie then lost most of '09 to the bum wrist and hit a weak .147/.211/.265 in the 32 games he did play. But last year, once he got over the spring virus, he hit very well indeed, posting a 1.8 WAR in 55 games. His defense wasn't as good as it was in '08, but it wasn't awful, and a shortstop who can hit the way he did last year would be very valuable indeed.
Of course, given the sample size involved, there is no guarantee that Lowrie can replicate a .907 OPS over the course of a whole season. If you look at his career stats from '08, the injury-plagued '09, and last year, he now has a .253/.336/.425 mark in 499 at-bats, with 41 doubles, 13 homers, and 66 walks. His career WAR is 3.4 in 168 games, slightly more than a full season. That's a solid player.
Lowrie turns 27 in April and should be entering his peak performance window. His OPS+ was 139 last year, and while I don't think he'll hit like that over the course of a full season, I don't think '10 was a total fluke, either. His BB/K was outstanding at 25/25 in 171 at-bats. If he maintains that kind of plate discipline, and if he stays healthy, he'll be a very valuable player and will make that A- I gave him three books ago look a little less crazy.