Ever since Boston traded Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs on July 31, 2004, shortstop has been like a revolving door. Or have you forgotten Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria and Alex Gonzalez, who preceded current shortstop Julio Lugo?
Pawtucket’s Jed Lowrie may have the potential to stop that door from spinning off its hinges. But he refused to bite when asked if he ever considers that he may become Boston’s everyday shortstop in the not-too-distant future.
“You don’t want to be clichéd and say ‘I can only control what I can control,’ but it’s true,” said the 24-year-old Lowrie who was a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the 2005 draft. “I have to focus on what I can do not only to make myself better as a player but also to help the team I’m on win.
“To me the most important thing is continuing to get better. I’ve only been playing the game (professionally) for three years but the guys that I’ve seen move along are the guys that continue to get better.
“I feel that I’ve got good skills,” continued Lowrie, “but there’s always room for improvement.”
What Lowrie says is directly out of “Cliches 101.” But he gave Boston a sneak preview of what he’s capable of doing when he was promoted on April 10 to replace Mike Lowell who went on the disabled list with an injured thumb (Lowrie is capable of playing second base, shortstop and third base but the organization decided that the bulk of his playing time this year with the PawSox will be at shortstop).
In 17 games, Lowrie batted .310 (13-for-42) with one home run and seven RBI.
“It was a situation where Mike [Lowell] got hurt and went on the D.L. and I had the opportunity to go up and help the team win,” said Lowrie. “The hardest thing about being called up to the major leagues is being able to maintain the same approach that you’ve had throughout your career.
“I was able to do that. I had some success from the start, but it’s never easy.”
Not to diminish Lowell’s value to the Red Sox but the switch-hitting Lowrie was fortunate in that he wasn’t expected to carry the load. Serving as a complementary player was all Boston asked of him.
“When I was up there I tried to keep it as simple as I could,” he said. “My role was to do what I could to help the team win. I wasn’t looked on to carry the team by any stretch.
“Just doing the little things as a young player in this organization is what’s going to make you shine the brightest.”
Lowrie without question shined like the sun last season when he was named Boston’s Minor League Offensive Player of the Year after playing 93 games for Portland (.297-8 homers-49 RBI) and 40 for Pawtucket (.300-5 homers-21 RBI). And he certainly made an impression on Pawtucket’s Ron Johnson, who’s in his 17th season as a minor league manager and has seen numerous prospects come and numerous prospects go.
“Jed’s got a respectful cockiness,” said Johnson. “He’s got that presence about him — the way he carries himself, the way he steps up to the plate. He makes you feel like he’s in charge of what’s going on.
“Take away the baseball thing and he’s one of the nicest, most respectful kids I’ve been around in my life. He’s very mature. But I think it’s that respectful confidence that he has which allows him to do the things he does.”
One thing Lowrie does that jumps off the page is display a superb knowledge of the strike zone, which is reflected in his walks-to-strikeouts ratio.
Over his first three seasons encompassing 283 games, Lowrie drew 165 walks and struck out only 186 times. And in this, his initial full Triple-A season, he walked 26 times and fanned 39 through his first 47 games (which went along with a .275 average plus 32 runs scored, 29 RBI and only five errors).
“From an early age, instructors that I’ve had along the way always have taught me to be selective and get a good pitch to hit,” said Lowrie. “It’s something that this organization thinks highly of and something that I take pride in as a hitter.
“You have to be comfortable hitting with two strikes. You can’t get anxious and you can’t try to do something with a pitch that’s not there. Over the course of a season it might get you a couple of times where you’re not feeling it that day. But over the course of 550-600 at-bats, it’s going to pay off.”
The fact Lowrie has been a switch-hitter since a young age already has paid off.
At Stanford, for example, he earned First Team All-America and All-Pac-10 honors in 2004 and 2005. In 2004, he was a national semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy which is presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate player. And now, he’s rated Boston’s No. 5 prospect by Baseball America.
“There was a batting cage about a half-hour from my hometown (Salem, Oregon),” recalled Lowrie. “I used to go there with my dad (Dan). I’m a natural righty but one day he asked me if I wanted to try hitting left-handed. I tried and there was something there but it wasn’t that good. It’s something I’ve had to work pretty hard at.
“You think about how much time and effort a guy that hits from one side has to put in to get to the big leagues and a switch-hitter has to do twice as much. It’s a fine balancing act of finding what it takes for you to get ready from each side of the plate.”
What would it take for Lowrie to force Boston into making a decision about his future at the major league level? Johnson, for one, doesn’t exactly have a list of things that stretches from base line to base line.
“There’s not a big glaring thing like ‘I’d like to see him get (Jacoby) Ellsbury’s speed,’” said Johnson. “That’s not going to happen. He’s got a good idea about every part of his game. He’s got a real good feel for plate discipline on both sides of the plate. He’s got life in his bat. He knows the strike zone.
“He knows how to play guys defensively. He’s not uncomfortable when he’s at second, third or short. It’s just a matter of getting constant reps, playing every day and by experience getting at-bats and getting the innings defensively.
“When you look at Jed at the plate,” continued Johnson, “even when he strikes out he controls the at-bat. When you have a player who has that already, the rest of it comes down to the physical part. I believe that, inside, he understands what’s going to allow him to be successful - which gives him a big head start over a lot of guys that are trying to make that step to the next level.”