Every morning in Surprise, Ariz., during Spring Training, Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe was on the backfields working with Rangers third-base coach Tony Beasley and first-base coach Corey Ragsdale -- both of whom handle the infielders defensively.
Lowe has been honest about his desire to improve his defensive abilities since joining the Rangers ahead of the 2021 season. This year, he’s added a special emphasis.
“He put in a lot of work and into trying to improve in his defense,” Beasley said. “He was open to criticism and instruction. That's the credit to him for just being vulnerable about his defense. He told me going into spring, ‘I need to get better.’
“I think the relationship with us was huge because it's hard to coach someone if you can't get feedback. You have to be able to say what is needed from a constructive standpoint. You've got to tear something down before you can build it back up. So the bottom line is he knows I want him to get better, and he wants to get better. We have a common goal. We just both work towards it.”
By the eye test, he looks like an entirely different player, defensively. The picks and scoops look a lot better. His pre-pitch movements are cleaner. Everything about his defense just looks more consistent this season.
The advanced metrics back up his perceived improvement.
Lowe has improved dramatically in both Statcast’s outs above average metric (-11 in 2022 to 2 in 2023) and Fangraphs’ defensive runs saved metric (-9 in 2022 to 2 in 2023). His ‘22 marks were last among all qualified first basemen in both metrics.
When the first baseman’s defense improved, the entire team did, too. Though second baseman Marcus Semien has already won a Gold Glove before this season (2021 with the Blue Jays), all four of the Rangers’ primary infielders -- including shortstop Corey Seager and third baseman Josh Jung -- have provided quality defense all year.
“Outs are outs, that's what I tell myself,” Lowe said. “If I have to knock it down and go pick it up and flip it to the pitcher, it counts the same as making a really nice play. It's still a work in progress. But when I play better defense, it makes this team better. And if I can make this team better by doing that, then yeah, it's something I can hang my hat on.”
Lowe’s defensive abilities are continuing to develop, and his offense has continued to evolve, as well.
The 2022 AL Silver Slugger Award winner at first base, Lowe’s second-half surge could make him at least a finalist again.
Lowe has traditionally been a better second-half performer, and this season hasn’t been any different. His consistency at the plate will be key to the Rangers’ division race down the stretch, with him sandwiched between Seager and Adolis García in the lineup.
Lowe in the first half:
Lowe in the second half:
2023, entering Wednesday: .306/.392/.530
“I don't know, I think I get into a groove where I stop playing selfish baseball and just play better baseball,” Lowe said of his post All-Star Game success. “I feel like I've fallen into the trap of trying to press for the All-Star Game and be somebody that I'm not during periods of April and May and June. When I play team baseball, I play better.
“When I get over trying to put my numbers up, I just play better. I feel like it’s much easier pushing for the playoffs than for an individual accomplishment. It’s team baseball.”
Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, for what it’s worth, believes Lowe is well on his way to becoming a genuinely well-rounded first baseman. And when he is contributing both offensively and defensively, the Rangers are in a good place.
“As long as I can be the best version of me and not try and do what [Seager and Semien] do but take bits and pieces, then I feel like we're gonna be in a really good spot,” Lowe said. “And when the team's winning, we're all in a rhythm and we're playing up-tempo baseball. I feel like it's gonna get the best out of everybody.”
SEAGER YOUTH ACADEMY VISIT
Last week, Seager hosted his first solo community event since signing with the Rangers in December 2021.
He, his father, Jeff, and wife, Mady, hosted 24 of the top Rangers Youth Academy athletes at the complex in West Dallas, observing batting practice and giving tips throughout the day. Corey and Mady also gifted the Youth Academy players backpacks, batting gloves, turf cleats, dry-fit T-shirts, water bottles and Rangers hats.
“It’s a lot of fun to give back and be around these guys,” said Seager. “And it's baseball, something we're very comfortable with, so it’s just a good time… Getting into high school is when it starts to get serious. Everybody [plays the game] differently. It’s a hard game, [so we told them] don't get down on yourself and just try to do your best.”
Read more on Seager’s visit here.
Despite the Rangers losing, 6-2, to Milwaukee on Sunday at Globe Life Field, new Texas pitcher Max Scherzer struck out four batters to bring his career total to 3,344. He moved past Hall of Famer Phil Niekro for 11th on the all-time strikeout list.
Greg Maddux is next on the list with 3,371.
Even as Scherzer achieved more history, he said he wasn't worried about individual accomplishments at this point in his career. He just wants to help the team win.
“I’m sure that's gonna mean more at a later date,” Scherzer said. “I show up here and I play to win. I'm only here to win. I'm not here for milestones, I'm not here for accomplishments, I'm here to win with this team. So I’m sure it's gonna be a good moment to reflect upon later in my life, but not right now.”
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