Lowery rebounding from tough 2012, showing promise in Akron
Despite setbacks last year, Lowery is looking good in 2013
And Jake Lowery?
The Johnny Bench Award -- given out annually to the best catcher in college baseball -- may not have the longest history, but it does seem to predict some level of professional success. Of the 13 winners of the award, the eight catchers listed above have already made it to the major leagues and Lowery is looking to join them.
"Some of the guys give you a hard time about it," Lowery said. "[Calling you] Johnny College or whatever, but it's something to be proud of and proud of your accomplishments. There's at least six or seven guys on the list that are backstops in the big leagues, so it's something that I hang my hat on."
Lowery still has the actual award itself and displays it proudly.
"It's a pretty big trophy," he said. "It's got Johnny Bench on it, when he played for the Reds. So it's pretty neat... It's actually at my house on my mantle. I take nice care of it."
So far in 2013, Lowery has been taking nice care of his career as well. After a disappointing 2012 season that saw him struggle after an aggressive promotion to High-A Carolina, the catcher is hitting well this year.
Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez had Lowery in Carolina last year and has seen his improvements.
"This is his second full season, second full year, and he's in Double-A," Rodriguez said. "I think that last year, that was his first full season, he was not ready for the challenge. Not only the challenge of facing good pitching, but also for the grinding of everyday for five months... This year you can tell a difference. He's ready physically and mentally to do that."
Lowery started off well in 2012, posting a .304/.375/.430 line in April, before falling hard. After posting a .169/.276/.258 line post-April, Lowery was sent down to Low-A Lake County in early July.
Lake County was kinder to Lowery -- he posted a .862 OPS in 39 games -- but he still came into 2013 as something of a question mark. Lowery was called up to Double-A after injuries in the upper levels left teams short on catching and he slid into the backup catcher role.
Since his callup, Lowery played himself into the starting role, something that comes as no surprise to Rodriguez.
"I've been pulling for him for a long time," Rodriguez said. "He's been doing a very good job at that. I can see him being an everyday catcher at some point, not only this year, but next year too."
Despite another aggressive promotion -- he only has 71 games at the High-A level under his belt -- Lowery impressed with his bat, posting a .305/.329/.512 line in 24 games. To accomplish this, Lowery is soaking up everything he can and simply playing the game.
"You look at every team's roster and there's guys that played at the big leagues," Lowery said. "Just picking their brains and stuff like that... It's still baseball. You get treated a little bit better as the levels go up. You don't have to carry your bags and stuff like that."
Part of Lowery's growth as a hitter has come with learning to not get much in love with pulling the ball to right field.
"I'm trying to use the whole field when I'm hitting," Lowery said. "In BP, you don't want to stay in love with pulling the ball because that creates bad habits. I've started from flips to BP to everything like that just trying to use the whole field, trying to stay in good habits, use the middle of the field, the other way, and hopefully it translates to the game."
Pulling the ball is part of where Lowery's power comes from, though that tendency can be exploited by pitchers. Rodriguez noted that in Carolina last year that adjustment by pitchers is what sunk his season, however Lowery is more ready for it in 2013.
"Last year when I had him at the beginning of the year, he did show that for the first three weeks of the season," Rodriguez said. "Then they made adjustments on him and he was not able to make adjustments on that. So he already showed that he can be an offensive catcher last year, now he's showing that more on a consistent basis."
Offense is only half of the battle for catchers, though, as they have a heavy defensive responsibility. Since he was called up midseason, Lowery may not have the best rapport with the Akron pitching staff, but he is putting in the time to learn their tendencies.
"Hanging out with the pitchers in the bullpen has given me the opportunity to feel what they want to throw in certain count, certain situations," Lowery said. "[I] just trying to block every ball and be a backstop back there for pitchers and just be a rock whenever they need me."
"Mentally you have to be strong," Rodriguez said. "Because if you have a bad game offensively, you still have to go out there and put the right fingers down and call a good game. So he needs to learn that, but it's a process. That's why there's minor leagues."
Lowery is obviously not a finished product -- otherwise he would already be with his Johnny Bench brethren in the major leagues. That said, there is still plenty of hope for the catcher and he has a big supporter in his corner.
"He's advanced and he's young," Rodriguez said. "He's willing to learn and willing to listen and he's been doing a good job. I think that he can become one of the main guys in the organization."
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