On Wednesday we reviewed the pre-season Tampa Bay Rays top 20 prospects for 2018 list. One reader asked about the development of prospect Nathaniel Lowe, who didn’t make the pre-season list, and there have been additional email questions recently about Brandon Lowe, just promoted to the majors, as well as Joshua Lowe.
Let’s flesh this out a bit and take a look at the three Rays Lowes.
Brandon Lowe, 2B-OF: A third round pick back in 2015 from the University of Maryland, Lowe has seen his production improve at each level and was recently promoted to the majors. Here’s what I wrote about him on the original Rays list back in spring training:
18) Brandon Lowe, 2B, Grade B-: Age 23, third round pick in 2015 from University of Maryland; hit .311/.403/.524 with 47 walks, 65 strikeouts, 34 doubles, nine homers in 315 at-bats in High-A, but just .253/.270/.389 with two walks, 26 strikeouts in 95 at-bats in Triple-A; strike zone got away from him against advanced pitching; plate discipline has always been one of his best attributes and he can probably make the needed adjustments to get it back; more power than the typical 6-0 second baseman; defense just average and he has a lot of competition in this system so he needs to stand out in ’18 or get lost in the pack; ETA 2020.
Obviously the ETA was wrong, as he’s in the Show now rather than 2020. He made the necessary adjustments this year with the strike zone, boosting his walk rate to past standards along with a simultaneous power surge, hitting .297/.391/.558 overall including a .304/.380/.613 line in 181 at-bats for Triple-A Durham.
He turned 24 in June and given his performance, bringing him to the majors now was a logical thing to do. The Rays are working to improve his defensive versatility. He is very reliable at second base in terms of not making errors but his range and arm aren’t good fits for shortstop or third. He’s been playing some left field this year with reasonable results. I think he’s probably a .260 hitter in the majors but with enough walks and isolated power to be a very solid producer.
Joshua Lowe, OF: Lowe was a hot prospect entering the 2016 draft, the Marietta, Georgia prep showing plus power and a strong throwing arm and earning a spot in the first round. He was a butcher at third however, posting an .836 fielding percentage in his pro debut with poor reviews for his range. The Rays moved him to the outfield in ‘17 and he looks good there, very capable in center.
Here’s how things looked pre-season:
19) Joshua Lowe, OF, Grade B-: Age 20, first round pick in 2016 from high school in Marietta, Georgia; hit .268/.326/.386 in Low-A, eight homers, 42 walks, 144 strikeouts, 22 steals; not a great year on the surface but he was just 19 in the Midwest League; broad set of tools with above-average raw power from the left side, plus speed and throwing arm; took to center field very well after being drafted as a third baseman; pure hitting skills/contact ability need more work but high upside; ETA 2022.
His production this season in High-A has been similar, .245/.325/.378. He’s hit 25 doubles but just six homers, granted the Florida State League is not an easy environment for young power hitters. His walk rate is up a bit but he still hasn’t learned to fully tap his raw strength for game power. There’s still time for that at age 20. Defensive reviews remain strong in center field so expect the Rays to remain patient. Overall his stock is holding but hasn’t improved.
Nathaniel Lowe, 1B: The older brother of Josh Lowe (the siblings aren’t related to Brandon), Nate was drafted in the 13th round in 2016 from Mississippi State University. He hit well in college (.348/.423/.490) but defensive limitations hurt his stock enough to keep him out of the earlier rounds. There may have also been some subconscious negative comparisons to his more athletic brother in the minds of evaluators.
His 2017 season resulted in a .274/.373/.388 line between the Midwest and Florida State Leagues, representing above-average production at both stops (131 wRC+, 111 wRC+ respectively). Scouting reports were muted, however, and just seven homers out of a first baseman wasn’t very exciting. He rated as a Grade C prospect pre-season.
That’s different now.
Lowe has been a beast this season, hitting .352/.442/.601 between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, whacking 23 home runs while showing a fine approach with 60 walks against just 64 strikeouts and earning a spot in the Futures Game. Despite the power surge his whiff rate is actually down compared to last year, obviously a good sign, and he’s added some loft to his swing without sacrificing anything else.
I think the offensive gains are real and that boosts his stock dramatically.
Defense is an interesting topic for Nate. Reports on his glove are, well, mixed. He lacks speed, really lacking speed, he’s a 20-runner. He looks like an awkward fielder in person. John Eshleman’s report at 2080 Baseball notes “poor hands, poor footwork; lack of first step quickness. Scooped a few but hands are stiff. Added risk if body backs up.” He does have a viable throwing arm, also noted by Eshleman.
Other reports aren’t quite as negative, MLB.com writing that Lowe is “a solid defender and makes all the routine plays.” The stats agree with this view, with Nate posting a good-enough .994 fielding percentage over his career.
He does have a low range factor, however, which fits 2080’s observation of lack of quickness. It is also notable that the Rays haven’t bothered to give him a single inning in the outfield despite his decent arm.
Bottom line on his defense: he’s not Mark Grace, but he’s playable at first base if he hits enough.
Will he hit enough?
Yes, I think so. I’d give him a Grade B on balance now.