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 –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”