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'Really High Expectations': Nathaniel Lowe Aiming To Become Complete Player For Rangers

After a solid performance in his first year as an everyday player, Nathaniel Lowe is ready to live up to "really high expectations" and become a complete player for the Texas Rangers.

When you visit a friend's house, or maybe even your in-laws, there have been or will be times you need to spare feelings. If they cook something for dinner that's not in your wheelhouse, there is an easy response that too many of us have turned to when asked, "Did you enjoy it?"

"It was fine."

Of course, you're playing with fire when you say this four-letter word. Even if the host accepts your stoic review, there's a very good chance they know you didn't like it—that it left a bad taste in your mouth.

When I asked Nathaniel Lowe how he feels about his performance in 2021, a season where he had a very solid .357 on-base percentage and an OPS+ 13 percent higher than league average, I might as well have offered him the blandest dish possible.

"It was fine," Lowe said. "Not a season that I'd really be proud of, but it's definitely something I can learn from and see where I need to improve as myself and as a teammate and see exactly where I need to get better."

While he clearly was not satisfied with the overall results, Lowe did plenty to earn another shot as the everyday first baseman for Texas. In fact, manager Chris Woodward plans for Lowe to be an important part of the Rangers offense.

"I have really, really high expectations for him. Maybe too high, to be honest," Woodward said. "I think with our hitting coaches and with the adjustments he's made, I may be going out on a limb just saying how high of expectations I have for him, but he's going to be middle of the lineup for us."

Nathaniel Lowe / Spring Training
Aug 19, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe (30) in action during the game between the Texas Rangers and the Seattle Mariners at Globe Life Field.
Aug 24, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe (30) celebrates after hitting a three run home run against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning at Progressive Field.

Lowe's 2021 slash line was .264/.357/.415/.771, clubbing 18 home runs with 72 RBI. When you get down into the nitty gritty details, you begin to see where Lowe's strengths and weaknesses are. 

Woodward talks about Lowe's ability to impact the baseball. According to Baseball Savant's 2021 rankings, Lowe ranked in the 77th percentile in average exit velocity, 91st percentile in maximum exit velocity and 74th percentile in hard hit percentage. Woodward also says Lowe is an "elite competitor" in the batter's box and that he "doesn't swing at balls." These claims are backed up by ranking in the 82nd percentile in chase rate and 90th percentile in walk percentage.

So, Lowe is a hitter that gets on base at a high rate and can drive the baseball. Those are two good strengths to build on. However, Lowe struggled in two key areas at the plate: high velocity up in the zone and hitting the ball on the ground far too often.

Pitchers threw 206 four-seam fastballs and 101 sinkers to Lowe last year. Of those 307 pitches, Lowe batted .182 against pitches middle-up and .267 up-and-away. While he batted a respectable .270 against all 307 pitches, only four of the 83 hits resulted in home runs and 15 of them being doubles. This is a symptom of owning the seventh-highest ground ball percentage in baseball.

The silver lining from last year is Lowe improved in both areas over the final several weeks of the season, registering a .873 OPS and .493 slugging percentage in his final 42 games of the season. In addition, Lowe has a far better support system this year. 

First, the additions of Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Kole Calhoun and Mitch Garver make the lineup far better than it was when the team lost 102 games in 2021. Second, the additions of Donnie Ecker (bench coach and offensive coordinator) and Tim Hyers (hitting coach) could pay dividends. They've already began working with Lowe on how he can take the next step to becoming the slugging first baseman the Rangers believe he can be.

"I need to drive the ball a little bit better, have a more clear plane going into it and just commit," Lowe said. "These guys are complex but very simple. I think that the way they teach things has paid off for teams they've been with before and it's gonna pay off for this team too."

Ecker spent the past two years as the hitting coach of the San Francisco Giants. Prior to Ecker’s arrival, the Giants ranked last in the National League in runs scored and OPS in 2019. In a two-year turnaround, San Francisco ranked second in runs in 2021 and led the NL in OPS while on their way to a Major League-best 107 wins.

What’s more, both veterans and younger players thrived in Ecker’s system. At the age of 34, Brandon Crawford slugged a career-high 24 home runs and posted a career-best .895 OPS. Meanwhile, 27-year-old outfielder Lamonte Wade Jr. enjoyed a bit of a breakout year with a .808 OPS and 18 home runs in only 109 games.

So, how can Ecker and Hyers help Lowe take that next step?

"I think the No. 1 thing is just celebrating and doubling down on the type of system player that he already is in terms of what he does at the plate and knowing what he wants to swing at," Ecker said. "Secondly, we're just making sure we give him a few extra clubs in the bag to have some solutions to the problems that might be a little bit of a challenge to him."

Donnie Ecker
Tim Hyers
Jul 2, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward (8) talks with players during batting practice before a game against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

While Lowe wants to improve at the plate, he takes his defense very seriously. After rating as one of the worst defensive first basemen in baseball last year, it's important to Lowe to improve in the field. During the lockout, he spent some time at Francisco Lindor's house in the Orlando area with some other big league players, including Oakland's Austin Allen and his brother Josh Lowe, who plays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

"Just being able to pick their brain and see what they go through with their defensive process [was valuable] because you've gotta give it the same value, in my case if not more than the offensive piece, and make sure that I'm a complete player," Lowe said.

"It was nice to be around (Lindor) and see his insight on the lockout, defense—the whole thing—and see what it's like to be at the top tier of Major League Baseball. I appreciate all the work that those guys put in with me this winter. I'm excited to see how it plays out."

Woodward's expectations are high, but it's because he knows if Lowe can become the player he is capable of, the Rangers—after years of uncertainty—finally would have first base solidified.

"Honestly, I do think he's capable and ready for that," Woodward said. "He's obviously gotta go out and do it though."