|Jed Lowrie's defense at shortstop improved last year, according to Baseball America. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The trade rumors had some folks in Minnesota all agog.
It seems that Jed Lowrie's mother has Minnesota roots. So when her son's name was front and center during the Johan Santana trade talks, she was in constant communication with the folks in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
"My mom gave me a call and said, 'If this trade goes through, we'll have to call all over Minnesota and tell them that they're getting a good Swede,' " Lowrie laughs.
It didn't happen, of course. Lowrie didn't go anywhere, and neither did Jacoby Ellsbury, Phil Hughes, or Ian Kennedy. The kids who did wind up getting traded were Philip Humber, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra. They were the Mets' young'uns who are now across town wearing the uniform of the Minnesota Twins.
Lowrie gets it. Far from being offended, he was indeed buoyed by having his name mentioned so prominently in the Santana talks.
"It was flattering," reports Lowrie. "To have your name mentioned in a trade for the best lefthander in the game was very exciting."
Jed Lowrie is 23. He was a first-round sandwich pick in the 2005 draft out of Stanford, and even before he put on a uniform, he was connected to an unusual event.
"The scout who signed me was Nakia Hill," he recalls. "I believe he was fired the next day."
Don't wait for a bada-bing punch line. The kid is serious.
Lowrie is a shortstop, and, to hear some people tell it, not a particularly good one. Those detractors say that if and when he makes a long-term living in the big leagues, it will be with his bat. Lowrie is a smart kid and doesn't take this stuff personally. He knows early labels are hard to shed, no matter the facts of the situation. In his case, this means he has made significant improvement with the glove since becoming a professional.
"That's kind of the job of publications like Baseball America and the scouts, to make evaluations," he shrugs. "My job is to make corrections and improve."
Lowrie points out he is learning his position on the fly.
"I was a second baseman all through college," he says. "I did play short in high school. But I had never played shortstop at a higher level until I got to [short-season Single A] Lowell. I've been working at it, and I am getting better."
Baseball America has, to its credit, acknowledged this.
On page 68 of the invaluable Baseball America Prospect Handbook, we read the following: "He improved even more dramatically on defense, becoming an average shortstop. Lowrie improved his fielding percentage there to .965 from .938 the year before and demonstrated enough speed and range to stay there. His hands and arm weren't in question."
Lowrie, whom Baseball America has slotted as the Red Sox' No. 5 organizational prospect, is a dangerous hitter. Again from Baseball America: "Lowrie is a switch-hitter with patience and pop from both sides of the plate."
He broke into professional baseball by hitting .328 with a pleasing .429 on-base percentage in Lowell back in 2005. He got off to a rough start last season in Double A Portland, batting only .170 in April. But he turned it on after that to finish the season in Triple A Pawtucket as the organization's minor league offensive player of the year.
In another circumstance, he would be in line for a big-league job. But the last time anyone looked, the Red Sox had a guy pulling in $9 million a year playing shortstop. So, where does that leave Lowrie?
"That's out of my control," he explains. "I've always had the thought process that I would focus on what I can do, to become the player I am supposed to be."
But here he is, enjoying spring training with the big boys. Is he thinking about trying to make a splash?
"That's a fine line to walk," he acknowledges. "Sure, I'd like to make some kind of impression. But the real goal is to prepare myself to play for whatever team I wind up with. I'm trying to sharpen my skills in order to help whatever team I'm playing with to win."
He does concede that, while he would love to be an everyday shortstop, if it takes learning to play multiple positions to get a big-league job, he is prepared to do that.
I believe I mentioned he was a Stanford man. Jed Lowrie is not the first product of the Stanford baseball program to make it into pro ball, and he won't be the last. Lowrie says there's a pretty good reason for that. His name is Mark Marquess, Stanford's coach since 1977.
"He is a coach who prepares you for more than just baseball," Lowrie says. "He prepares you for life. He prepares you for success, but he teaches you to be humble about it. He does a great job of teaching you to be a man."
Jed Lowrie's story is hardly unusual. Good players are blocked by better players, or favored players, or more expensive players, in every organization. It's been that way in baseball for 125 years.
The trick is handling the situation. Someone who is not caught up in himself, someone who realizes he needs to improve, someone who has the requisite patience, and someone who has been taught more than just how to play the game is far more likely to prosper in the long run than someone with a bad case of Entitlement.
Jed Lowrie's time will come. One of these days, some team will have a good Stanford Swede in its lineup.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.