The Rays have a temporary opening in the outfield. They’re going to fill it with a Top 100 prospect because that’s what one of the most successful player-development systems in recent memory can do.
Tampa Bay is calling up No. 76 overall prospect Josh Lowe for his Major League debut, following the news that rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena will be out on paternity leave until Saturday at the latest.
No matter how long he is up in The Show, there is little doubt that Lowe has earned this first promotion to the game’s top level. The 23-year-old outfielder has enjoyed his best offensive season yet at Triple-A Durham with a .282/.369/.540 line, 21 homers and 24 stolen bases over 98 games. He is one of nine 20-20 players in the Minors this season, and the only one of those nine to fill both requirements completely in Triple-A. Add in his 24 doubles, and he becomes a member of an even more inclusive six-player 20-20-20 Minor League club in 2021.
The left-handed slugger -- and brother of former Rays and current Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe -- was taken by the Rays with the 13th overall pick back in 2016. He was originally selected as a third baseman but moved to center field for his first full season with Class A Bowling Green in 2017. A plus runner with a strong arm, Lowe took to the grass incredibly well to the point where he shows 60-grade potential in the outfield. He has also seen time in both corners this summer, and his throwing ability makes him an asset in right as well -- notable given the defensive presence of Kevin Kiermaier up the middle in St. Petersburg.
Lowe moved methodically through the Tampa Bay system, playing one level per season. His only previous in-season promotion came when he moved from the Gulf Coast League to Rookie Advanced Princeton in his Draft year. That was, in part, because he was very much an offensive work in progress earlier in his career. His power breakout came in 2019, when he hit 18 homers for Double-A Montgomery -- only one fewer than he’d hit in his previous three seasons combined. He underwent surgery on his right shoulder that November and likely would have been limited at the start of a normal 2020 Minor League season, had one existed. Instead, he showed that power could carry over to the Minors’ top level in 2021 -- this is the first year he has slugged above .450 -- and that continued pop progression has carried him to the Majors.
There are some swing-and-miss concerns with Lowe’s profile. He has struck out at least 25 percent of the time in each of his six Minor League campaigns, and his 26.7 percent K rate this season at Durham is his highest since 2017. His .282 average is slightly inflated by a .345 BABIP, though he typically posts above-average numbers in that category due to his wheels.
In all, it’s at least a four-tool package that Lowe brings to the Majors, and the Rays might even admit that Lowe would have gotten an earlier promotion had their outfield not already been full in its own right with Kiermaier, Arozarena, Austin Meadows, Manuel Margot and Brett Phillips claiming spots for much of the summer. (Notably, Phillips is on the injured list with a sprained ankle, opening another avenue for Lowe’s callup.)
Lowe becomes the fifth former or current Top 100 prospect summoned to the Majors by the Rays in 2021, joining Wander Franco, Vidal Bruján, Shane McClanahan and Luis Patiño on that list. Tampa Bay enters Wednesday with an 88-51 record, the best in the American League.