PORT CHARLOTTE — The mounting frustration of the slump he couldn’t shake throughout the postseason gnawed at Brandon Lowe.
Yes, his Rays were winning, beating the Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros to get to the World Series, but he wasn’t doing much of anything to help. He was only slightly more productive against the Dodgers in the World Series, hitting three homers that helped the Rays to their two wins, but little else.
For the 20 games, the team’s most valuable player contributed little value: a .118 average (9-for-76), four homers, eight RBIs, a .459 OPS.
“I was kicking myself pretty hard for essentially not even being there for my team in that postseason stretch,” Lowe said on a Zoom call after Wednesday’s spring training workout. “I’d been pretty good throughout the whole year and then it came down to the postseason — thank God Randy (Arozarena) was playing out of his mind. Really picked me up. Really, the whole team kind of picked me up.
“It was something that I don’t want to feel like I felt last year in the postseason. I want to be there next to the guy making history, instead of sitting there watching him.”
The solution, Lowe decided, was to make things tougher on himself during off-season workouts. No extended time off to feel sorry for himself, no easy work to rebuild his confidence.
The 26-year-old walked into the Nashville-area training facility run by agent Hunter Bledsoe and told them to bring it, to challenge him by simulating what facing the best is like.
“A lot of it this offseason was focused on everything being a little bit more difficult,” Lowe explained. “I wasn’t going to hit a (batting practice) fastball every day of the week. It was, ‘Get the machine out there, have it throw the hard slider, the hard breaking ball. Lefty. Righty. Everything.’
“Really challenged myself to where I didn’t leave every day this offseason going, ‘Man, I’m a really good hitter.” There’s some days that I was like, ‘God, I should probably hang this up.’ ”
On most days, Lowe (pronounced like “wow”) is that really good hitter.
In an injury-shortened 2019 rookie season, he hit . 270 with 17 homers, 51 RBIs and an .850 OPS in 82 games, was added to the American League All-Star team and was voted the team’s top rookie. In 56 games last season, he hit. 269 with 14 homers, 37 RBIs and .916 OPS, earned team MVP honors and was eighth in the AL-wide voting.
That pace over a full season, which he has yet to play in the majors, would be an impressive .270 average, 36 homers, 103 RBIs and an .876 OPS.
“When he’s right, he’s as dangerous as anybody in the American League,” manager Kevin Cash said.
The issue is that Lowe has had volatile stretches, and his peaks and valleys are extreme.
Like when he earned a promotion from Triple-A in August 2018 and went 0 for his first 19. Or in May 2019, when he went 1-for-17 with 11 strikeouts. Or in the middle of the abbreviated 2020 season, when he went 4-for-47, including a career-worst 0-for-22 stretch, with 16 strikeouts. And, of course, last postseason.
“We’ve all felt it at times, like he’ll carry us for two weeks and then just really have a tough time and the strikeouts will mount, and this and that,” Cash said. “But I think we’ve got to allow Brandon, especially being a really good player and still a very young player, to let him work the kinks out himself as much as possible.
“Because we know when he gets on time, that consistency will take over.”
Lowe is driven, somewhat fiercely, to be more consistent, to be more aware of when and how his swing and/or approach have drifted and make the necessary corrections.
“I spent a lot of time this offseason trying to find stuff to keep me consistent,” he said. “Find those cues and stuff like that, so hopefully something like that only lasts a week or a few days rather than the entire postseason like it did.”
That level of consistency is what can separate the elite players from the really good ones. And Lowe is driven to get there, too.
Unsolicited, he brought up the recent rankings MLB Network did of the top 100 players in the game, as of now.
Lowe was 53rd, behind not only the obvious top shelf position players, but others such as No. 51 Mike Yastrzemski (Giants), No. 41 Luke Voit (Yankees), Nos. 35 and 34 Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto (Mets).
“Really it would be nice to be better than 53,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty good goal for myself.”