ARLINGTON -- The Rangers acquired first baseman Nate Lowe from the Rays on Thursday with the idea that he will supplant Ronald Guzmán at the position in the 2021 season.
Lowe, 25, made his Major League debut with the Rays in 2019, after entering that season as the No. 8 prospect in their system per MLB Pipeline. He played 71 games for Tampa Bay over the past two seasons, hitting .251/.322/.447 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs in 245 plate appearances.
Rangers get: 1B Nate Lowe, 1B Jake Guenther, player to be named later
Rays get: IF Osleivis Basabe, C/OF Heriberto Hernandez, OF Alexander Ovalles
Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said the club has had interest in Lowe in the past, and it came close to trading for him this past summer. That dialogue continued this winter as Texas identified offense as a crucial area that needed improvement. Addressing first base was a high priority.
“We see him as a very good hitter, good approach with power,” Daniels said. “Hit at every level. I told him to expect competition, but we made this deal anticipating he would win the job and be our first baseman. Offensively, with the approach and power, he has a good combination of skills. I think he is an upgrade at that spot, someone we can grow with.”
Lowe was a 13th-round pick out of Mississippi State in the 2016 MLB Draft. Daniels said he compares favorably to former Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland, who also came out of Mississippi State and was drafted in the 17th round in '07.
“First base was an area we were very poor at last year,” Daniels said. “It was an obvious area to address. We could have gone after it with more of a short-term, stop-gap upgrade. That’s not our preference. We were looking for guys who fit that longer term.”
Guzmán has been with the Rangers the past three seasons, but he has yet to seize the job at first base. Over 236 Major League games, he is hitting .230/.308/.417, and Texas was clearly running out of patience.
Lowe played in 21 games for the Rays this past season, but he was only active for the American League Wild Card Series in the postseason. He was inactive for the next three rounds (including the World Series) with Tampa Bay going with Ji-Man Choi as its left-handed-hitting first baseman.
“I’ve played against Guzmán,” Lowe said. “He is a really good player, but if they are making a move to get me to the position, it is what it is. I’m excited for the opportunity. I understand there is going to be some competition. But I’m going to go out there and play the best I possibly can and help the team win. We’ll figure out the rest after that.”
Lowe went 2-for-15 against left-handers this past season, but he is batting .231/.333/.436 against them over the past two years, while hitting .256/.320/.450 against righties. Guzmán's career splits are .177/.239/.317 against lefties and .249/.331/.452 against righties.
"I love [facing] left-handed pitchers. That's just the system that Tampa operates with. They like to match up," Lowe said. "They're confident in right-handed bats against left-handed pitchers. The sample size was small because teams were able to carry enough players to fill those matchups. But I've come up hitting lefties my whole life, and I really enjoy it. It will be nice to get the opportunity again to do it in Texas."
“We always have to make decisions,” Daniels said. “Obviously, we were mindful of Ronald’s talent. We just had to make a decision. We like Nate as an upgrade for the club.”
The Rangers also acquired first baseman Jake Guenther, who played at Texas Christian University, and a player to be named later for infielder Osleivis Basabe, catcher/outfielder Heriberto Hernandez and outfielder Alexander Ovalles. Guenther was taken in the seventh round of the 2019 MLB Draft and has played just one season in Rookie ball, hitting .320/.431/.423 in the Appalachian League.
"Guenther is another guy with a good approach we think is going to develop some power,” Daniels said.
Basabe was the No. 20 prospect in the Rangers' system and Hernandez was ranked No. 24, but all three players given up were at Class A Short-Season Spokane in 2019, and did not play this past season. Ovalles was one of three players acquired by the Rangers from the Cubs for Cole Hamels in '18.
“This is just a traditional baseball trade,” Daniels said. “No financial implications, no buyer or seller. Tampa has a number of players at first base ahead of Nate. They’ve liked some of our younger prospects, as do we. We felt that was an area of depth for us we felt we could trade from. [Lowe] is a 25-year-old player with six years of runway ahead of him to be a productive member of our team.”
The acquisition of Lowe as the Rangers' first baseman all but eliminated the possibility of a young prospect being moved to the position. Daniels said Texas is “bullish” on Sam Huff’s ability to develop into a Major League catcher and that Sherten Apostel will focus on third base. Both were viewed as potential first-base options because of their high offensive potential.