Looking to improve defense, Lowe gets advice from Lindor
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Nathaniel Lowe was named the 2022 American League Silver Slugger Award winner at first base, he was thankful for the praise and acknowledgement. He also didn’t fail to point out the things he needs to improve upon going forward.
“It’s making light of it, but I know I need to be better defensively,” Lowe said then. “I know there are a handful of plays that I botched and I cost the team games. I know that going forward and being a part of a true championship team, the game is going to have to be me with the glove. And that's something that I really need to put a focus on this winter.”
By the eye test, Lowe -- who homered off Clayton Kershaw in the first inning of the Rangers' 3-1 win over the Dodgers on Thursday -- has been more than serviceable at first base. But there’s no doubt that there’s a lot of room for improvement going into a pivotal season for both himself and the club.
In 2022, Lowe ranked last in the Majors in outs above average (-11) at among qualified first basemen and last in defensive runs saved (-9). So to that end, it’s no shock that defense has been one of his main focuses this offseason.
The work started in the offseason, when Lowe’s agency put together a “tight-knit” group of players to work out together in Florida. That group included his brother, Josh -- an outfielder with the Rays -- but it more notably included two-time Gold Glove Award-winning shortstop Francisco Lindor.
“I have one of the best defensive players and infield coaches in the world in Francisco Lindor,” Lowe said. “Just being around him, I feel like it helps my game as a whole, because, metrically, he's one of the best. Being around somebody like that is going to elevate my game.”
Lindor, who also won a Platinum Glove in 2016, imparted words of wisdom on Lowe all offseason, but the biggest things he learned may have been the most simple.
“I just need to get more aggressive in going to get the ball,” Lowe said. “That’s it. And I think that [the new shift rules are] going to help that, because now, I’m not worried about cutting off Marcus [Semien] or worried about not getting the ball, either. We’re playing baseball again. No shift is going to expose and make or break defensive players and I’m excited for that challenge.”
Infield coaches Tony Beasley and Corey Ragsdale have worked with Lowe throughout camp to undertake that challenge. Picks and scoops, Beasley explained, were actually Lowe’s strong points last season at first base. The improvements needed to come elsewhere.
Beasley said Lowe’s development on defense needed to start with presentation and “eliminating wasted movements” on the field, first and foremost. The second -- and arguably bigger -- aspect lies in the footwork.
“I’m just getting him to understand how to play with the ball,” Beasley explained. “I want him to create the hop that he wants and dictate the action, as opposed to being at the mercy of the hop. There are gonna be times when you play the corner and that ball is gonna be smashed, so you just have to react and catch it. But there are a lot of times where you can control things happening. I want him to be in control of the situations.”
The biggest point of emphasis for a first baseman is to help his fellow infielders win Gold Gloves. But Beasley believes the ceiling for Lowe can be a Gold Glover as well if he puts in the work to make that happen. And he noted that Lowe has initiated almost every conversation with the infield coaches about becoming a better defender.
“I'm really pleased with that,” Beasley said. “He's started wanting to go out early, pretty much every morning. That's a credit to him and his willingness to want to get better defensively. You know that he wants to be a complete player. I love that about him. … Why not put yourself in the Gold Glove conversation? Why not? If you are an infielder and you don't think about those [accolades], then you don't care enough about your defense. His mind is there, and he's gonna make sure that the work matches what's in his mind.
“He's proven that he's a legitimate big league hitter and that he's a threat offensively. It's good that in his mind, though, he's not content with just that.”