'Don't bet against him': After breakout season, J. Lowe wants more

February 25th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- entered Spring Training last season needing to play his way onto the roster, and wound up playing his way into elite company.

After a brief and disappointing first look in 2022, Lowe capitalized on another shot at playing time last season. He hit .292/.335/.500 with 20 homers, 83 RBIs and 32 stolen bases in 135 games. He totaled 3.7 Wins Above Replacement, fourth-best on the 99-win Rays’ roster.

He was one of only seven players in the Majors last year to record at least 20 homers, 30 steals and 30 doubles. The others have all been All-Stars and received MVP votes: Ronald Acuña Jr., Francisco Lindor, Corbin Carroll, Kyle Tucker, Julio Rodríguez and Trea Turner.

Still, when he went home for the offseason, he wasn’t totally pleased.

“We didn't win the last game of the season last year. I'll be satisfied once that happens,” Lowe said Sunday morning ahead of the Rays' 9-9 tie against the Tigers in Lowe's Spring Training debut at Charlotte Sports Park. “Until we're able to raise the trophy over our heads, I wouldn't necessarily say I'd be satisfied.”

Another member of the Lowe family did exactly that: his brother Nathaniel, the former Rays first baseman who won it all with the Rangers. Lowe was in Arlington for Games 1 and 2 of last year’s World Series, and he watched his brother help bring home a championship.

Lowe would have traded all his home runs, stolen bases and RBIs for a ring.

“Seeing what they accomplished and watching those games in person is special. You only get there so many times in your life,” Lowe said. “And I think that the group of players that we have here is special enough to accomplish something like that.”

There’s another reason Lowe wasn’t totally satisfied with his season, though. The self-assured 26-year-old still believes he’s capable of more.

Specifically, Lowe said he wants to be more consistent. He got off to an incredible, confidence-building start in April. He cooled a bit but still played well in May. He struggled to a .232/.270/.370 line in June and July. Then he finished as strong as just about anybody on the roster, batting .329 with an. 899 OPS after Aug. 1.

“I've always been a confident player in knowing what I can do. I know that I can be the player that I was last year for many years to come,” Lowe said. “My goal every year is to try and do better than that year. … I know it's hard to do. But at the same time, that's what makes great players great is just being consistent.”

The Rays were thrilled with what Lowe gave them last season, but they also believe he can take his game to another level.

“If there was one guy that I would say you could see taking the same sizable jump again, I would put it on him,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Not to put added pressure on, but … knowing Josh, he's pretty hungry to be a really, really good player. He's going to put the work in.

“Don't bet against him.”

Lowe has already told first base coach Michael Johns he wants to improve his defense enough to get his name in the Gold Glove Award conversation, for instance. A center fielder coming up through the Minors, Lowe spent most of last year in right field. Advanced metrics were mixed on his performance, as he recorded 3 Defensive Runs Saved but -2 Outs Above Average.

Despite the impressive numbers he put together, there is still room for improvement offensively. Lowe struck out four times as often as he walked last season, and he posted a 12th-percentile chase rate (35.7%) and 20th-percentile whiff rate (30.2%). And when he’s on base, he wants to run as much as he can.

Lowe was remarkably efficient on the bases last year, racking up 32 steals while only being caught three times. Only two other players, both Phillies, totaled at least 30 steals while being caught fewer times: Bryson Stott (31 steals, caught three times) and Turner (30 steals, never caught). With that in mind, plus MLB’s intent to target blocking the bases, Lowe could be even more active this season.

“The biggest thing that we've talked about this spring is just when your body feels good to steal a base, because that's the hardest thing with stealing bases really -- is just the impact it takes on your body,” Lowe said. “I want to get on and steal as many bases as I can and get into scoring position for the guy behind me to hit me in.”