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Plus One: Mark Lowe, RHP

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on February 21, 2007

Mark Lowe began the 2006 season at Inland Empire of the Calfornia League. The Cal League is notorious for it’s hitter-friendly environments.

Lowe’s first full season in the bullpen after being selected in the 5th round of the 2004 draft turned out to be his defining season as professional pitcher.

The right-hander dominated the Advanced-A circuit and showed no signs of slowing down after being sent to Double-A San Antonio, where a group of the game’s best offensive prospects were honing their skills and having big years.

It didn’t appear that Lowe cared who was standing in the batter’s box, allowing a .169 BAA for the season, including a .194 BAA when facing the following top prospects: Alex Gordon (1-4,1B, K), Billy Butler (0-3, 2 K), Brandon Wood(1-6, 2B, BB, K), Hunter Pence (1-4, 2B, BB, K), Travis Buck (2-8, 4 K) Kurt Suzuki (0-2, K) and Kevin Mellilo (1-4, infield single).

Lowe dazzled in the majors, too, and we all remember the 101 mph fastball he tossed in Baltimore. Even though the Yard’s gun is notoriously 2-4 mph on the fast side, that’s still something that stadium didn’t see all year. Even their Daniel Cabrera topped out at 100 last season.

Lowe was impossible to grade for these rankings, due to the nature of his elbow surgery and the unknown recovery time and success rate. But when he’s right, he’s as right as the rain in the Emerald City. And we all know how right that is… right?

Mark Lowe

Mark Lowe Stats 2006

Strengths: Lowe has tremendous stuff from the pen, and showed that last year in his first taste of the bigs. He’s a former starter with a lot of endurance and is more than capable of going two or more innings on occasion.

His stuff holds through the lineup more than once, and there’s still a chance he returns to the starting rotation down the road. Some believe the wear and tear on the pitching arm is easier to take when the workload is regimented, rather than the on-and-off style of relief work.

Weaknesses: Lowe isn’t consistent with his changeup yet, but has shown longer stretches of effectiveness with it over the past year and a half.

His recent elbow surgery, which may need another scoping this spring, is the only reason Lowe isn’t ranked. The type of procedure performed is rare and the recovery time is unknown, as are the chances that the 23-year-old regains full strength and flexibility in the joint.

Tools –

Fastball: In 2004, Lowe spent some time with the Everett AquaSox, throwing in the 89-92 mph range with decent movement. Good enough to start in the pro game, even the majors.

Since his move to the bullpen, however, Lowe has taken his fastball to another level. Sitting in the 94-96 mph range and touching the upper 90s, his heater is now as good as you could ever expect. With good downward plan and late action, Lowe is able to induce ground balls by attacking the lower portion of the zone with his four-seamer.

His fastball explodes out of his hand and can tie up righthanders with good armside run, or paint the corner on the outer half. As long as his control stay with him, he won’t have problems getting outs with old number one.
Grade: 70/75

Slider: Lowe’s out pitch is a hard, devastating slider that breaks down and away from right-handed bats. Usually coming in at about 86-88 mph, Lowe piles up the strikeouts with all three his offerings, but the slider is his best option when he gets to a two-strike count.

Lowe usually starts his slider on the outer half and buries down and off the plate, but he’s capable of throwing it in the strike zone with great effectiveness. It’s easily the best slider in the organization.
Grade: 65/70

Changeup: Lowe’s changeup showed solid depth and great deception last summer, and that continued into his big-league debut. He has satisfactory control of the change, and it’s particularly effective against lefties, whom he held to a .154 BAA and a .405 OPS combined at both stops in the minors.
Grade: 60/65

Command: Lowe’s command is a shiny new toy for the Texas-Arlington product, improving drastically with his shorter stints on the mound. Lowe served up just one home run in 45 2/3 innings in the minors, and allowed just 14 walks.

He’s learned to pitch with more confidence with his fastball, giving him the opportunity to spend more time on his secondary stuff, though his command could still stand to jump another notch.
Grade: 55/65

Mechanics/Delivery: Lowe’s delivery is not picture perfect by any stretch, but it’s fairly typical of the tall, lanky power pitcher. The club would like to see him find better balance at the height of his motion to help curb the torque on his elbow and shoulder, but they do not believe his elbow problems stemmed from a major flaw in his mechanics.
Grade: 50/55

Future: Lowe has the stuff to start regularly in the big leagues, even if he loses 3-5 mph off his fastball. He did, however, have problems going through the lineup a second and third time through, though most suggest that young pitchers often suffer that syndrome early in their careers.

Any return to a starting role is probably a few years away, if it ever happens (the injury certainly set the idea back a year or two at least), but he’d likely occupy the No. 3 slot in the rotation if the move is successful.

If he returns to form following the surgical procedure on his throwing elbow, he’ll immediately serve as the setup man and potential closer of the future in the M’s bullpen.

The latest PUBLIC news on Lowe is that Dr. Lewis Yocum, the premier surgeon in the country for baseball-related injuries (he performed the labrum surgery on Travis Blackley 24 months ago), has recommended another MRI and possibly a scoping of the elbow to clean it out. Lowe is experiencing about 85 percent flexibility in the elbow, which isn’t a bad sign, necessarily. He’s less than six months off the operating table and isn;t feeling any unexpected pain or discomfort.

At worst, Lowe is expected to start throwing, even after the scope job, sometime in the next six weeks.

Privately, the Mariners aren’t as optimistic, though Yocum feels pretty strongly about the success of the procedure. Yocum is the expert on this and isn’t a spin doctor of any nature, so if he is happy with the way things look on Monday, it’s probably time to jump for joy.

Lowe’s status sits anywhere between “future all-star closer and current star setup man” to “Man, he was really good for those 18 2/3 innings back in ’06. Remember that?”

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17 Responses to “Plus One: Mark Lowe, RHP”

  1. Kirk said

    After reading the details on his injury and the procedure on Jeff’s Lookout Landing blog after last season ended, it’s hard to have much confidence in the long-term future of Lowe. I think whatever the M’s can get out of him at this point has to be considered gravy, and the chances of him suffering another injury to his elbow is not an “if” question but a “when”. The recent news about his elbow stiffness sends warning signs to me that even when/if he comes back, there’s a pretty fair chance he’s not going to have the same stuff as before.

    I hate to come off so pessimistic, but unfortunately I think Lowe is just the latest example of how unpredictable pitching prospects can be given the high likelihood of injury for baseball pitchers.

  2. Goose said

    Yeah, to quote Jeff: “I’m telling you forget about Lowe. If he ever pitches again for the Mariners, it’s gravy.”

    Sigh.

  3. Lowe will pitch again, I have no doubts. For me, that isn’t in question at all.

  4. Slack said

    Jason,
    Do you feel that Lowe will return to form and pitch like he was when he got promoted to the M’s?

  5. THAT is the question. He’ll pitch again, but will he be any good If so, how good? Will it last?

  6. Kirk said

    I’m pretty sure Lowe will pitch again, but I’m not at all sure he’ll have his same effectiveness, and I’m quite sure he’ll re-injure the elbow at some point. Again, that’s based off the relatively detailed medical info I’ve read from Jeff’s blog – the condition that Lowe suffers from and the nature and relative newness of the procedure Yocum performed on him are such that it’s hard to be confident that we as M’s fans can count on much from Lowe. If we get 1 or 2 seasons of effective pitching out of him, we should feel happy.

    Let’s hope that Stephen Khan can refine his command enough to become Mark Lowe redux…

  7. Dash said

    I have a feeling he’s going to be joining the likes of Dave Fleming and others on the the list of young M’s pitchers who debuted brilliantly and than flamed out quickly due to injury.

  8. nighthawk180 said

    I have the same fear but that’s just like talking about a no-hitter going into the ninth. I’m currently knocking on wood and praying to the baseball gods. I hope he can at least be serviceable for a couple of seasons. I hope it works out for the better.

  9. Okay, yeah, I probably should’ve said “if he ever pitches *well* for the Mariners again, it’s gravy”.

  10. I think i remember your post on this, Jeff, and I think you’re right… it’s a longshot.

    That’s exactly why I couldn’t find a comfortable spot to rank him. I have been told by local doctors, and a former MLB team doc that the surgery Lowe had has only been done like 500 times EVER on ANYONE, ANYWHERE in the WORLD.

    That alone creates bigtime odds.

  11. Lance said

    Yeah, apparantly one was Kenny Rogers. Not the pitcher, the singer (from years of using a mic).

    Good news, so far. Baker Blog says only scar tissue found. They haven’t decided if scoping will be necessary.

    Jason, what is your philosophy on pitchers whose main secondary pitch is the slider being used as starters? From what I’ve read sliders can work havoc on the arm, much more than other pitches, which is why teams tend to let such pitchers gravitate to the bullpen. RJ was just a freak of nature with his Mr. Snappy.

  12. While I don’t subscribe to any theories that slider pitchers are so much more likely to be relievers due to potential elbow or shoulder issues, there is something to the slider=reliever thing… but it’s more due to the fact that teams see an option to MAKE SURE they get the absolute most of young arms, since in general it’s far more taxing on the elbow and shoulder to START than to relieve – though that isn’t ALWAYS the case.

  13. Baseballistic said

    Good news on Lowe:

    Apparently the only thing Yocum found in his latest MRI was some scar tissue, potentially paving the way for Lowe to begin throwing sooner than expected.

  14. I think the club is going to be very smart about this, and I don’t necessarily mean conservative and extra safe.

  15. john said

    JAC
    I know this is very off topic, but I just thought I would get your opinion. Patrick Hruby on espn.com just completed his investigation of the Gyroball, and if it exists, he has some pretty convincing video in his story to prove it. He also says that Ichiro was rumored to throw it when he was pitching in Japan. I found it so interesting that I asked my Physics teacher about it, who is a baseball nut and he said he has looked into, and he said that given what he has found out there is no reason to believe that it cannot be thrown. If Dice-K can really throw a gyroball then the sox did well on their investment. Again, sorry for going off topic, but I was just wonering if you, or anyone else knows anything about the Gyroball, and if it exists or not, thanks.

  16. john said

    by the way here is the link to the story.
    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=gyroballsearch

  17. Thing is, Matsuzaka doesn’t throw it, and probably won’t throw it, at least not regularly.

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