Lowery wants to finish strong
Life is full of opportunities and the key to seizing them is scripted on Jake Lowery’s wristband: “Finish Strong.”
Lowery, a 22-year-old catcher whom the Cleveland Indians selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, started the season in high-A Carolina before he was assigned to low-A Lake County in July. Lowery hit .222 with two home runs, 25 RBIs, 28 walks and 71 strikeouts through 59 games with the Carolina MudCats, and now he feels grateful for the opportunities that have surfaced in Lake County.
“I’m happy I’m in a good situation,” Lowery said. “Great coaches, great teammates. We’re all learning the game and trying to make a playoff push.”
Lowery accredits his struggles in Carolina to attempting to fix things that weren’t broken.
“I felt comfortable there at first,” he said. “It was closer to home, I had a lot of family coming to games and stuff like that, but as the season went on, I started pressing a little bit after I wasn’t doing as well.”
As he started pressing to perform, Lowery said he tried to make changes that were different from the approaches that worked for him in the past. Now, he’s focusing on designing successful at-bats while adjusting to the Lake County pitching staff. Instead of letting his demotion discourage him, Lowery is capitalizing on the situation to complete the season on a high note and of course, finish strong.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “To get some more at-bats and stuff like that. They said it’s not like a demotion you see at the major and minor leagues and that’s what it is. It is what it is and it’s all right.”
Lowery had an incredibly successful college career at James Madison University as he racked up numerous highlights on his resume. In 2011, the Virginia native was the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, a Louisville Slugger Collegiate Baseball First Team All-American, a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, and a recipient of the Johnny Bench Award.
The catcher feels that his collegiate success has served as an indication of his abilities to the Indians organization as well as formed a formidable foundation to his confidence.
“It’s helped me lean back on some things that I’ve gotten away from,” Lowery said. “I had a good college career, hit some home runs, got a lot of awards and all that good stuff, but I’ve had success in the past so I know it’s there and the Indians know it’s there, it’s just not there right now. That’s just something to lean on, as I look at film and stuff like that and try to get a little bit better.”
Lowery’s focus is on his improvement rather than his past. The spotlight is on his at-bats as he takes things one pitch at a time.
“Every day is a new day,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be in the line-up every day. I’ll go out there and hopefully get three or four at-bats a game and just try to cherish each moment and try to win every pitch; not think about the past as much and just try to win every pitch and have a good at-bat and hit the ball hard.”
That approach is starting to work for him in Lake County as he’s smacked five home runs in addition to nine RBIs over the course of 10 games. He cannot, however, explain where his recent bat pop originated.
“Really, I’ve just been getting in some good counts and been aggressive early and I’ve had guys on base in front of me. Honestly, I can’t explain the power surge, I’m still striking out a lot, but other than that, I’ve just been trying to hit the ball hard – if I hit a home run, I hit a home run, but the main focus is to try to hit the ball hard somewhere.”
Lowery notes that breaking balls are to blame for his strikeouts. “[The issue has] just been swinging at curveballs that bounce in front of the plate,” he explained. “Now I’m just trying to see it up and not be so aggressive, get something to hit, because you’ve got to be able to hit a breaking all to get up to the next level.”
Lowery’s plan of attack at the plate is simple: use the full field. He’s working on adjustments to stay up the middle and make as big of an impact as he can.
“I just try to stay in the middle of the ball and in the middle of the field, try not to pull everything and use the whole field, use my hands a little more and control the game as much as I can,” he noted.
In addition to overcoming sliders in the dirt, Lowery is focusing on blocking pitches that skip in the dirt. He’s working on his defense behind the dish as he assimilates to handling the Lake County pitching staff.
“It’s like a whole new staff,” he said. “I haven’t caught some of these guys in a while, since spring training.”
It’s been over five months since spring training, but Lowery still feels good and thinks his resiliency is his biggest strength at the moment.
“I can catch, I can play DH and I’m staying healthy as far as I know,” he explained. “And I can be out there whenever you need me with great work ethic. I’m out there trying to work hard and I think they see that as well.”
Captains’ manager Dave Wallace concurs with Lowery’s testament to hard work. Wallace has been impressed with the way Lowery has handled his situation and is thrilled to have Lowery on his squad again.
“He’s had a great attitude about it,” Wallace praised. “We’re excited to have him here. We lost a good player in Alex Monsalve, but Jake’s a pretty nice player to get back in return.”
Monsalve and Lowery swapped places as Monsalve was promoted to Carolina after spending 73 games with the Captains. Wallace managed Lowery last season with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and has noticed a significant amount of improvement in the catcher’s all-around game.
“He understands the game a lot better,” Wallace noted. “There are some adjustments he’s having to make at the plate that he didn’t necessarily have to make last year. We’re just working through that now and he’s working through it and we still think he has a really bright and long future ahead of him.”
So far, Lowery’s adjustments seem to be paying off to boost his development. Wallace has been pleased with Lowery’s input, and the positive output has been a prime indication of Lowery’s determination to improve.
“We’ve been really happy with how he’s caught the ball,” Wallace said. “His receiving is getting better, his blocking is getting a lot better and he’s always had a good arm and thrown the ball well. We just need to see more consistency there and he’s putting in the work to get himself where he needs to be.”
Lowery knows the things that are required to reach the point where he needs to be, but he tries not to put too much thought into where he wants to be next year.
“Obviously, I want to get back to Carolina and start there, but I can’t control that, I’ve just got to control my effort and the abilities I’ve been given and work as hard as I can. Wherever they send me, I’ll make the most of it.”
Lowery makes the most out of all of life’s opportunities, including his education. He signed with the Indians with a year of college remaining, so he is continuing to take courses through James Madison University. Last year, he took six credit hours and he plans on taking 12 this fall to pursue a degree in Sport Management and Business.
Though he plans to have a diploma in hand soon, Lowery still hopes to replace it with a big league bat. His college degree is his back-up plan and he may not need it to establish a successful career. His hard work on the diamond is paying off and he knows that any setbacks he encounters are merely motivators to push forward.
The Lake County Captains are presently part of the Midwest League playoff race and Lowery knows his contributions are imperative. There’s still plenty of season left and both the Captains and Lowery want to finish on a high note. If all goes according to plan, the writing is on Lowery’s wrist: finish strong.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.