No. 2 prospect returns to Rays after heating up in Minors

Lowe was on Opening Day roster before struggling; Bard optioned to Triple-A

June 20th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- After seven weeks of work in Triple-A, outfield prospect Josh Lowe is back with the Rays.

The Rays recalled Lowe, their No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, and optioned reliever Luke Bard to Triple-A Durham prior to Monday’s deadline for Major League clubs to reduce the number of pitchers on their active roster to no more than 13. And they’re giving the athletic outfielder another chance to establish himself in the Majors after he was sent down following a rocky start to the season.

After his time in Triple-A, Lowe feels he’s ready to do exactly that.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise, for sure,” Lowe said before the Rays’ series opener against the Yankees at Tropicana Field. “Nobody wants to get optioned. It’s the big leagues, and everybody wants to stay here for as long as they can and make a career out of it. So I’m thankful for the opportunity to come back and ready to help this team.”

Tampa Bay put the 24-year-old on its Opening Day roster after trading outfielder Austin Meadows to Detroit for infielder Isaac Paredes near the end of Spring Training. It was a bet on the high ceiling Lowe displayed while dominating Triple-A a year ago, and he delivered some nice moments. He sped around the bases for a triple on April 9, robbed a home run in Chicago on April 17 and clubbed his first big league home run on April 29.

But Lowe had some flaws exposed at the plate during his first extended look in the Majors, as he hit .188/.257/.344 while striking out in 38 percent of his plate appearances over 19 games. When the Rays needed to add more pitching depth, they sent Lowe back to Triple-A on May 2 and gave him a lower-pressure environment to work on his swing.

“Once he got down there, he has been consistent in saying that it might not have been the worst thing for him to get down, let him get reacclimated, fine-tune some things and work on some things that are not that easy to do at the big league level,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Certainly excited to have him back.”

Lowe appreciated the reset for two reasons. One, it allowed him and Durham hitting coach Will Bradley to correct a mechanical flaw that had been holding him back; his hips were drifting toward the pitcher, which threw off his balance at the plate. Lowe struggled in Triple-A for less than a week, picking up two hits while striking out in 15 of his first 24 plate appearances, then put together a .336/.414/.569 slash line with four homers, 15 doubles and 30 RBIs in 30 games after May 10.

Second, going back to Triple-A allowed Lowe to take a deep breath and reset mentally. The pitching is better and more consistent in the Majors, but the game remains the same.

“I know I belong here and I’m going to be here a long time, so I’m excited to go out and really put that on display and get the club going in the right direction,” Lowe said.

Cash said Lowe is going to be “playing a lot of baseball, a lot in the outfield, certainly against right-handed pitching,” which means the Rays will restart the outfield/DH rotation they employed the first month of the season. That could mean more DH time for Randy Arozarena against right-handers and fewer at-bats for Brett Phillips, similar to the alignment the Rays used on Monday with Lowe in left field, Kevin Kiermaier in center, Manuel Margot in right and Arozarena at DH.

Bard, meanwhile, was squeezed out by the limitation on the number of active pitchers. The 31-year-old right-hander pitched well in four relief appearances for the Rays, working six scoreless innings with five strikeouts and one walk. Cash said he will be used in a multi-inning role at Triple-A, ideally pitching two innings at a time.

“We expressed that to him, and overall, just appreciate how he went about his business and think that he can help us throughout the rest of the season,” Cash said.