PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Last May, the Rays made the tough choice to deal a popular, established player -- Willy Adames -- to fill a need elsewhere and, in turn, clear paths to playing time for young infielder Taylor Walls and top prospect Wander Franco. Their similarly difficult decision Monday night to trade away another popular, established player -- Austin Meadows -- will have the same consequences.
The Rays officially recalled outfielder Josh Lowe on Tuesday morning, as expected, giving their No. 2-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline, a spot on the Opening Day roster. Lowe is expected to be a regular contributor for Tampa Bay as the club shuffles through its still-impressive number of options in the outfield and at designated hitter.
“He has the potential to be an All-Star player,” said president of baseball operations Erik Neander. “That's how we see him.”
Lowe, who mashed 22 homers and stole 26 bases for Triple-A Durham last season, was MLB Pipeline’s 50th-ranked overall prospect entering the season. He earned a brief callup last September, picking up a hit in his big league debut against the Red Sox, but found himself blocked throughout the season by a deep group of Rays outfielders.
Seemingly without a spot again this Spring Training, Lowe was optioned to start the season with Triple-A Durham last Thursday. The Durham club’s flight had just landed Monday night in Nashville, Tenn., when Lowe received word of his pending promotion.
“This is a good opportunity for him, and we all know he’s ready,” Rays Opening Day starter Shane McClanahan said. “We saw it last year and hope that he can come in and do what everyone knows he can do.”
What Lowe does is different, though, than what Meadows did for the Rays.
Meadows’ strength is his ability at the plate -- his power, timely hitting and overall run production -- but he was limited, at least compared to the Rays’ other outfielders, in the field and on the bases. Lowe might not immediately replace Meadows’ offensive production, but he’ll likely add more value through his defense and baserunning.
“Continuing to lean into that athleticism, foot speed and taking the extra base, doing those things that I think are helpful. Josh is a really good defender as well, which gives us a little more in the outfield,” Neander said. “So it'll look a little different. But I think that fluidity will open up a lot of opportunities for our group, and it'll be a lot of smaller parts to the puzzle that I think will come in and replace the contributions that Austin made.”
Lowe looked ready last year, when he put together his best season yet at the Minors’ highest level. The 24-year-old has always possessed the tools to succeed, which is why he was the Rays’ first-round pick in the 2016 Draft, but he got the most out of them in Durham. He took a big step forward offensively to hit .291/.381/.535 with 28 doubles and 78 RBIs. His defense improved as he manned all three spots in the outfield. And his baserunning was excellent, as he went 26-for-26 in stolen-base attempts.
When asked what the dynamic Lowe does best, Rays first-base coach Chris Prieto laughed and admitted, “That’s a hard question to answer.”
“He knows he’s ready to play at the big league level, and he wants to try and prove himself,” Prieto added. “I’m excited for him to get here.”