The career of Houston Astros’ shortstop Jed Lowrie looked to be on the downward trend when the 28-year-old was traded from Boston to Houston over the offseason. After a decent debut with the Red Sox back in 2008 that saw him post a .339 on-base percentage, play good defense, drive in the run that won the Division Series over the Los Angeles Angels and otherwise liberate us Sox fans from ever seeing Julio Lugo on the field again, Lowrie looked to have a bright future. Then health problems, including mononucleosis, got in the way and he only had 68 at-bats a year later. In 2010 he was productive when he played—a .381/.526 stat line—but health still only allowed him 171 at-bats. With 309 ABs a year ago, his numbers tailed off sharply. The Red Sox dealt him for reliever Mark Melancon, who was shipped to the minors soon after this season started. Lowrie, meanwhile, has taken off.
Lowrie is batting a respectable .269, but solid plate discipline has gotten him the walks that lift the OBP to .354, and the power he flashed in ’10 is back in full force, with 13 home runs keying a .498 slugging percentage. If we had to vote today for the National League All-Star team—and for the purposes of TheSportsNotebook’s Road To Kansas City tour of each position leading up to the July 10 All-Star game in KC we do need to pick today—then Lowrie deserves the nod at shortstop. Houston might have a lot of issues to work on, but middle infield isn’t one of them, as Lowrie joins second baseman Jose Altuve as a deserving vote to start the All-Star game.
I don’t know if you still want to consider Lowrie young at 28, but if you do, he’s part of a very interesting group of young shortstops in the National League. Over the long-term the best of the group is Starlin Castro. He swings a good bat, hitting .302 and plays a premier defensive game. He only trails Lowrie because the latter has much better walk totals, thereby eclipsing the batting average edge. That’s something Castro has to work on over time. And Lowrie is also abnormally hot with his power stroke. Castro’s slugging is currently .449 and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t pass his Houston counterpart here by the end of the season.
Cincinnati and Los Angeles each have rookies at the spot, with Zack Cozart and Dee Gordon respectively. Both are playing well defensively. Gordon has a lot of work to do at the plate if he’s going to fulfill his promise. Cozart’s numbers aren’t dazzling—a .307/.426 line—but he’s had hot runs have been very good and if the consistency levels out with experience, then the Reds have a gem on their hands in the year they honor one of their all-time greats at shortstop, as Barry Larkin goes into the Hall of Fame.
Continuing the young shortstop theme, San Francisco’s given the job to Brandon Crawford, who’s giving them great work with the glove, but has the same issues as Gordon with the bat. Ian Desmond in Washington has showing surprising power, popping 11 home runs and slugging .452. The issue here is that his defense is not very good and if the home runs stop, there’s nothing else he does consistently to help the Nats win. And one of the more intriguing players is San Diego’s Everth Cabrera. He got the job after a knee injury to Jason Bartlett, and though he’s only got 107 at-bats so far, Cabrera is playing the kind of baseball that could leave Bartlett Wally Pipped (the verb in honor of the former Yankee first baseman whose missed game put Lou Gehrig in the lineup for 2,130 straight games). Cabrera’s .342/.411 stat line is certainly respectable, especially given he hits in Petco Park. And his defense is superlative. Keep an eye on what the Padres do once Bartlett comes back towards the end of next month.
Beyond the young kids there’s the old guard of Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado), Jose Reyes (Miami), Jimmy Rollins (Philadelphia) and Rafael Furcal (St. Louis). I’ve always felt Rollins and Furcal were overrated to begin with and neither one is doing much. Although if I had to pick, it would be Furcal, who plays better defense and at least hits for average, at .285, even if his overall OBP is usually less than stellar. Reyes hasn’t really gotten into consistent rhythm at Miami, although he’s shown flashes and with a .349 OBP is doing well enough that he could play himself into consideration for the nod at this position when TheSportsNotebook revisits the topic in September. Tulowitzki was most definitely having an All-Star season, at .360/.486 and some great defense, but he’s going in for surgery on his groin and is out to the end of July, In a lost season for rebuilding Colorado I find it hard to believe they’d rush their meal ticket back too quickly.
Arizona’s Willie Bloomquist and Pittsburgh’s Clint Barmes are each outright liabilities, although the Diamondbacks have hope of getting Stephen Drew back at the end of July from the ankle surgery he had at this time a year ago. Atlanta, New York and Milwaukee have all been beset by injuries and have no stability at shortstop.