Let’s face it: Every player in the major leagues has talent.
Each one has been one of the best players — if not the best player — on his team at every level since tee ball.
The major leagues, though, is a different beast, and young players’ trust in their talent can be eroded pretty quickly.
It might be the opposing pitcher on the mound who rattles a young hitter just by the name on his back. It could be a big-name opposing hitter stepping into the box who rattles a young pitcher.
A three-game slump or a few bad outings can make a player second-guess everything that got him to the majors in the first place.
That’s a battle the Texas Rangers (3-3) will be facing throughout the 2021 season, as they continue their rebuilding process with rookies and unproven players. It’s already been seen through six games this season.
On the other hand, though, is Nate Lowe, whose spot as the everyday first baseman is all about trust.
In a spring where he needed to win the job, he didn’t stray from what has worked best for him in his career. He looked pretty lost at times early in camp and didn’t even hit .200 while his main competition, Ronald Guzman, hit over .300 and showed more power.
But the process Lowe followed has him off to one of the best starts in franchise history and helped make him the MLB leader in RBIs through Wednesday.
“It’s kind of wild, man,” said Lowe, who was acquired in December in a six-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
“In spring training there are so many people who show up and want to make an assessment on numbers and statistics and results. Nobody makes the postseason on spring-training stats. I get how it was definitely a weird situation to put the team in when I’m not getting results in spring training, but step by step accomplishing what I need to do to help this offense on Opening Day and now today.”
Lowe’s plan pays off
The Rangers were off Thursday ahead of playing a stretch in which they are scheduled to play 13 consecutive days. The Rangers opening a three-game home series Friday against the San Diego Padres.
Lowe will likely be the cleanup hitter behind Joey Gallo against right-hander Joe Musgrove. Lowe, who like Gallo is a left-handed hitter, has been hitting fifth against lefty starters.
He set the Rangers record for RBIs in a team’s first five games and set the MLB record for RBIs for a player in the first five games with a new team. He topped the decades-old record of 12 held by Pinky Hargrave with the 1925 St. Louis Browns.
Lowe leads with Rangers in average (.320) and homers (3) in addition to his robust lead in RBIs. The Rangers likely weren’t anticipating this kind of production from Lowe, but they are expecting more consistency after watching him stay within himself in spring training.
“That was the thing I was probably most impressed with was his ability to be unwavering in his approach and knowing he’s competing for a spot,” manager Chris Woodward said. “Guzy probably had better numbers, but I think it was the calmness, the controlling of the at-bats, just talking to him through his approach and what he’s trying to do up there, and just watching him from a consistency standpoint pitch by pitch by pitch.”
Tampa Bay minor-league coach Jamie Nelson helped Lowe develop a plan to get him ready for a season. None of the stats a hitter accumulates in spring training matter once the regular season arrives, and spring games should be a vehicle for getting a player ready by Opening Day.
Lowe took fastballs down the middle this spring, many times to kill rallies. It raised some eyebrows, but Lowe never gave in based on what he came to believe under Nelson’s watch.
“He and I had talked about it and realized spring training is so limited ... that you have to make the most of your opportunities,” Lowe said. “If you’re not going in with a plan and having a set idea of what you’re going to do, then what are you doing? You’re wasting your time. If it takes doing something funky in a game to reach a goal, it’s only spring training.”
Not just Lowe
The Rangers have seen a few young pitchers also thrive early on because they trust what they’re doing.
Right-hander Dane Dunning allowed one run in five innings Tuesday, striking out six, by pounding away with his two-seam fastball. Left-hander Wes Benjamin delivered 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief Sunday by attacking hitters and getting ahead in counts.
Woodward said he saw the same Tuesday from Brett de Geus in only his third career appearance, which ended with 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
It’s not just rookies who can have trust issues.
“That’s a challenge with anybody,” pitching coach Doug Mathis said. “It’s the big leagues. Some times you get hit, but there’s also a lot of times when we don’t get hit and we walk guys and put free guys on base without having them earn it. That comes down a lot to trusting your stuff.
“I do think it takes some time for guys to really understand how good their stuff is and how good it can be.”