For many, the legend of Jed Lowrie started on April 16, 2011 when he ostensibly took over the Red Sox' starting shortstop position from Marco Scutaro, singling in his first at bat and then homering in his second. These people are rather late to the party.
As it so happens, the Legend of Jed Lowrie is, like any good story, something of a roller coaster. It has not always been this easy, this fun, or this exciting--there are lows to this tale too. But for years now, the Legend of Lowrie has been building--a slowly growing wave that, if you looked hard enough, you could see coming years away.
Of course, there are any number of places you could start this legend. In Salem, Oregon where Lowrie was born, or at any number of other formative moments that must have occurred that led him to baseball. But for Red Sox fans, it makes sense to start at the 2005 MLB Draft.
The 2005 MLB draft produced one of the strongest crops of players in recent memory. Led by a group of All-Stars in Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Clay Buchholz, and Justin Upton, the pool of players features still more who are just now reaching their potential: Andrew McCutchen, Ricky Romero, Colby Rasmus, Jay Bruce, the list goes on and on and on.
The Red Sox, having lost Orlando Cabrera, Derek Lowe, and Pedro Martinez, entered into the draft with five picks before the second round. They left with Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Michael Bowden, and Jed Lowrie.
Since that point, Clay Buchholz has flirted with the Cy Young award, Jacoby Ellsbury has divided a fanbase while holding down the starting center field position, Craig Hansen disappeared into the black hole that is the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system, and Michael Bowden has bounced back and forth between Triple-A and Boston, unable to really translate his minor league numbers.
And then there's Jed Lowrie, the 45th overall pick in the draft. A shortstop out of Stanford, Lowrie earned his first round placement with breakout years at Stanford in 2004 and 2005, hitting .399/.505/.734 and .317/.416/.594 respectively, collecting 31 homers along the way.
He hit the ground running in Lowell. While his home run power didn't carry over to wood bats and professional pitching, he actually improved on his OBP from his last year at Stanford, walking more than he struck out. The organization deemed him worthy of a promotion to Double-A to start 2007 despite a down year in High-A Wilmington.Lowrie took full advantage, establishing himself with a season that earned him both a late-season promotion to Triple-A and Portland's MVP award. Before the year was up, Lowrie had belted 13 homers, put up a .896 OPS (the best in the minors), and was ranked fifth amongst Red Sox minor leaguers on SoxProspects.com, and 73rd amongst all prospects by Baseball America.
Lowrie's peak was short-lived, however, as 2008 saw the double-edged sword that was his Major League debut.
The Red Sox entered 2008 as World Series Champions, but with one obvious flaw: starting shortstop Julio Lugo. After hitting .237/.294/.349 in his first season with the team and providing little defensively, Lugo had used up all his good will with the local fan base. Jed Lowrie, stashed away in Pawtucket, was the heir apparent.
Lowrie's opportunity came just halfway through April when Mike Lowell sprained his thumb. Though he only received 42 at bats in his first trip to the Majors, he made the best of his opportunity, hitting a solid .310/.340/.476 before returning to the minor leagues. All was going well, but then, on May 16, Jed Lowrie fractured his left wrist in a collision at second base while playing for Pawtucket. When he returned to the majors, his numbers against right-handed pitchers just weren't the same. By the time the playoffs came around, he just wasn't the same from the left side of the plate.
Still, with a supposedly healed wrist, Lowrie looked poised to take over the starting shortstop job in 2009. It was not to be. Just eight games into the season, the team determined that Lowrie's wrist was far from well, and sent him to have surgery. He would spend the rest of the season watching his stock drop dramatically as he went on and off the disabled list. With the arrival of spring training in 2010, Lowrie was no longer a sure thing to factor into the team's plans. His opportunity to change that went up in a flash, though, when he was diagnosed with mono early in March.
At this point, more than a fair share of fans were ready to write Lowrie off. He had come in strong, yes, but hadn't showed anything at the plate since August 2008. Besides which, he was always injured. Jed Lowrie was, for all intents and purposes, a bust.
But others were not so willing to give up. There were signs that Lowrie still had plenty to give. He hadn't produced at the plate from the left side because his wrist was broken. From the right side he maintained a .934 OPS over the course of the 2008 season. Always injured? Hardly. It was just one wrist injury that was grossly mishandled. The mono was just a crazy fluke--hardly indicative of anything. There was no reason Lowrie shouldn't still be expected to be the Red Sox' shortstop of the future.
And then came the most recent part of the story. We all know by now how Jed Lowrie returned to action in late 2010, taking out all the frustrations of the past two years on opposing pitchers and the balls they threw, putting up numbers that rivaled the best shortstops in the league over the last few months of the season. And now, after a brief period backing up Marco Scutaro, Jed Lowrie seems to have finally made it. The starting shortstop on the Boston Red Sox, owner of a 1.319 OPS that could survive an 0-for-25 streak before dipping below a reasonable .750.
Will Jed Lowrie end the season batting like Barry Bonds at his best? No, obviously not. But at this point the .900 OPS from 2010 that seemed destined to be an aberration--even if .800 wouldn't be--seems entirely attainable these days. Great for any team in the league, but the perfect fit for the Red Sox, long seeking a permanent fix at shortstop, and even better providing the lefty-killer that the Sox have been worrying about since the loss of Victor Martinez.
But was this a miracle? Lightning in a bottle? Or was it just the fulfillment of the promise Lowrie showed in college, as a first round draft pick, and as a top prospect in years past? The Legend of Jed Lowrie has reached new heights, but by no means is it just beginning.