With rejuvenated infield, Lowe puts emphasis on 1B defense
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Nathaniel Lowe looks across the infield this season, it’s a little different than his first with the Rangers. And with a new infield comes new expectations.
Lowe is the lone infielder from the 2021 Opening Day lineup that is expected to be in the same position when the Rangers open in Toronto this year, most notably with the middle-infield additions Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.
“It's been great,” Lowe said. “Everyday feels like somebody new, somebody with winning experience shows up and it's gonna push everybody's game to the level that they can get it to. Having guys like that isn't pressure, it's just more of an encouragement to get better in what you do and be there performing at that same level.”
With two veteran guys joining the infield -- one with a Gold Glove Award in Semien at second base -- Lowe is also hoping to take his defensive abilities up a notch.
Lowe wasn’t a poor defender in 2021 by any means, and by the eye test, he was more than serviceable. But the advanced statistics were not in his favor. Outs above average, one of Statcast's main defensive metrics, graded him at -3, which was tied for 29th among qualified first basemen in 2021. Defensive runs saved similarly graded him -3 (ranked 16th among first basemen) and ultimate zone rating at -4.2 (19th).
But it was also his first full season in the big leagues when he’s playing every day at a single position. Manager Chris Woodward said he’s taking the challenge head-on to be a better all-around player with a full year of MLB experience under his belt.
“He's taken ownership of that, he swore to us at the end of last year,” Woodward said. “The last conversation we had before the lockout started and then the first conversation after the lockout ended was talking about defense. He's like, ‘I'm going to be a better defensive player. I’ve got a big responsibility with Corey and Marcus up there to protect them, dig balls out of the dirt, make them Gold Glovers.’”
Lowe said the two biggest things he’s focused on are receiving the ball and his footwork moving side to side with a little bit more ease than he was last year. Woodward noted that Lowe is more than athletic and quick enough to be an elite first baseman.
Rangers first-base coach and Major League field coordinator Corey Ragsdale said that even if Lowe was an elite Gold Glove-caliber first baseman last year, there’s always more to do and another step forward to take.
Ragsdale emphasized exactly what Woodward said, that Lowe came into camp with the intent to elevate his defensive game. Woodward said if the coaching staff weren’t confident in Lowe’s ability to do so, they wouldn’t push as they currently are.
“He can be an elite first baseman,” Woodward said. “Maybe this year is the year he takes off and becomes one of those guys, but it's more of a mentality and a mindset from him. He has to take on that and be like, ‘Hey, I expect more. I expect to be a great defensive first baseman.’”
And if you ask Ragsdale, a good defensive first baseman speaks wonders for the rest of the infield.
It’s a reciprocal relationship as well. The first baseman has to scoop balls in the dirt and stretch out to help the other infielders look good, and the other infielders have to make as good a play as possible to make the first baseman’s job easier.
“It's us working together to pick each other up,” Ragsdale said. “It's a kind of a one-unit mentality in that sense. Our infield is obviously capable of doing really good things. But whether somebody wins a Gold Glove or not, a first baseman's mentality should be like, ‘I'm going to help these other guys win Gold Gloves.’
“They want to be a big part of helping their other infielders succeed. They take pride in it, and that's a huge part of what I feel like I'm seeing with Nate. There's an intent with him wanting to be better and him wanting to help his teammates be better. It's been really, really cool to see so far.”