Prospect Retrospective: Jed Lowrie
As you know, Jed Lowrie was traded from the Houston Astros to the Oakland Athletics yesterday.
I've always found Lowrie to be a very intriguing player, so today we will look at his development as a prospect and his career path thus far.
Jed Lowrie was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the supplemental first round in 2005, 45th overall, out of Stanford University. Opinions about him pre-draft were mixed: he had a great season as a junior, hitting .317/.416/.594 with 14 homers, 41 walks, and 41 strikeouts in 224 at-bats, but some scouts felt that his swing wouldn't work in pro ball, and that his glove would fit better at second base.
He got off to a great start with a .328/.429/.448 line in the New York-Penn League for Lowell, showing superb plate discipline. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2006 Baseball Prospect Book, writing that "I think he will continue to hit for average and get on base, but I have doubts about how much power he will show." I was afraid that his power was due to aluminum.
Promoted to High-A Wilmington in 2006, Lowrie hit .262/.352/.374, limited to 97 games by nagging injuries. The stat line didn't look too great, but Wilmington was a tough place to hit, and he maintained good plate discipline with a 54/65 BB/K in 374 at-bats. He made 25 errors in 88 games at shortstop, but showed enough range to make scouts think he had a chance to stick there. I lowered his grade to a C+ for 2007, but noted that I was still "rather optimistic about him."
2007 was much better: fully healthy and away from Wilmington, his bat exploded: .297/.410/.501 in 337 at-bats for Double-A Portland (65/58 BB/K, +24 percent OPS), then .300/.356/.506 in 160 at-bats for Triple-A Pawtucket (12/33 BB/K, +18 percent OPS). Overall he hit .298/.393/.503 on the season, with 13 homers, 47 doubles, and 77 walks. His range at shortstop wasn't the best, but he lowered his error rate and made just 17 miscues on the season in 116 games.
He looked like an excellent hitter when I saw him play, showing above-average power from both sides of the plate and spectacular strike zone judgment. Very optimistic, I gave him a Grade A- rating entering 2008, ranking him as the number 10 hitting prospect in baseball.
That was one of the most controversial grades I ever gave. I got insulting emails about it, people saying that I was a biased Red Sox fan for example. Much of the hate seemed to come from Yankees boosters and (oddly) Mets fans. I knew it was an optimistic grade, but I stuck with it.
Lowrie had a poor spring training in 2008 and opened the season back in Triple-A. The "I told you sos" flowed. But a roster spot opened up in April, the Red Sox promoted him to the majors, and he got off to a fast start. He didn't maintain it all year, and ended up hitting .258/.339/.400 in 81 games for the Red Sox, with a disappointing 92 wRC+. However, his defense turned out better than expected, helping give him a positive 1.7 WAR on the season despite the weaker than expected offense.
As you know, Lowrie has been dogged by injuries ever since, limited to just 32 games in the majors in 2009 and 55 in 2010, though he hit the hell out of the ball in 171 at-bats that year, hitting 287/.381/.526 for the Red Sox. Eventually traded off to Houston, he played 97 games for the Astros last year, hitting .244/.331/.438 with 16 homers and a 111 wRC+. Overall, in 353 major league games, Lowrie has hit .250/.326/.417 with a 98 wRC+ and a 6.1 career WAR.
As a hitter, Lowrie hasn't produced a great batting average, but has more power than many middle infielders and can have some very hot hot streaks. His range at shortstop isn't the best, but he's reliable in terms of avoiding errors, and can handle second and third base quite well.
In all honesty, he obviously hasn't lived up to the Grade A- I gave him back in '08. But looking back on it, I don't regret giving him the grade. Injuries have been a big hassle for him, and he's shown enough during his hot streaks (especially those 55 games back in 2010) that I don't think the talent I perceived was an illusion. If you look at his career line in 162 game notation, you see the .250/.326/.417 slash breaks down to 34 doubles, 16 homers, and 61 walks per 600 plate appearances. Not bad for a shortstop with a competent glove.
Lowrie is still just 28 (29 in April). We'll have to see how things work out in Oakland, but I still like the guy.
LESSONS LEARNED: Don't be afraid to go against the crowd. Staying healthy is a skill.