Over the past 12 months, Thad Lowry has experienced the highs and lows professional baseball offers its participants. The process has taught him the necessity for patience as well as the need to make minor adjustments. The lessons can be tough, but when the fruits of his labor are rewarded, such as being named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week for June 2-8, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Lowry opened the season in Arizona in extended spring training before getting the call to Class A Kannapolis in mid-May. He lost his first three starts before bouncing back from his most difficult outing to throw five no-hit innings in a rain-shortened complete game at West Virginia on June 3. The right-hander then continued to pitch well while picking up his second straight victory after limiting Savannah to one earned run and six hits over five frames June 9.
"I've been working on small details, things like my fastball command and trying to keep my pitch counts down and not walking anybody," said the 19-year-old Lowry. "When I didn't [break camp with Kannapolis], I didn't think too much about it. I just grinded it out in extended spring until they told me it was time to come here. I just wanted to do whatever I could so that I'd be ready when I got the opportunity."
Drafted by the White Sox in the fifth round in 2013, Lowry was a two-way player at Spring High School in Texas through his first three years, serving as the Lions' starting catcher while throwing off the bump when needed. He displayed good hand-eye coordination at the plate and possessed above-average tools, which led to early attention from college recruiters, including invitations to camps during his freshman year. Arizona head coach Andy Lopez called Lowry on the first day he could be contacted, July 1, 2011. Several other coaches expressed their interest shortly thereafter.
As promising as Lowry was behind the plate, his arm strength stood out among his tools. As a result, he began to focus his efforts more on the mound. The scenario intensified in the fall of 2012 when Lowry attended the World Wood Bat Association Championships in Jupiter, Fla. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder impressed scouts with his 92-93 mph fastball and his projectability as a pitcher. The feedback from those in attendance convinced Lowry to make the move within the battery permanent.
Lowry continued to excel as a senior and touched 96 mph with his fastball during the early portion of the campaign. His velocity dropped to around 90 mph as the season unfolded, and he mixed the heater with a low-80s slider and a splitter. Given his lack of experience on the mound, Lowry was deemed raw with tremendous upside. He wound up going in the fifth round and signing for a reported $400,000.
Despite his limited time on the mound, Lowry and second-round pick Tyler Danish were the only two pitchers from Chicago's 2013 Draft class to open last season at Rookie-level Bristol. He underwent on-the-job training in the Appalachian League while dividing his 15 outings between starting and relieving and going 3-5 with a 5.48 ERA in 44 innings.
"It was definitely a learning experience," Lowry said. "Going from high school to pro ball in a matter of weeks was a big leap. The big thing was realizing there were a bunch of other guys out there just like you. You have to have control of everything mentally and physically. You can't just overpower guys like you used to. And you have to stay even-keeled through all of the ups and downs."
In his first five starts with Kannapolis, the Texas native has shown why Baseball America rated Lowry's fastball as the best among those in Chicago's 2013 Draft class. He also has displayed a better feel for his changeup and more consistency with his breaking ball, which has led to early success with the Intimidators.
In his first start, against Hickory on May 17, Lowry allowed one run and three hits over five innings yet suffered the loss. He scattered nine hits, which led to three runs -- two earned -- in four frames against Delmarva on May 23 before giving up six earned runs and six hits in 1 2/3 innings at Hickory on May 28. Since then, as he nears his one-year anniversary in pro ball, Lowry has two straight wins under his belt while allowing one earned run over his last 10 innings.
"The past year has been a huge change, going from a catching position to pitching and realizing it's not just about how hard you throw or what kind of stuff you have," Lowry said. "It's more about your composure and the routine you create between starts and how you build off of everything you do. You can't change things every time you get hit. You have to stay on course and trust the work you're doing."
Nearing division crowns: The Savannah Sand Gnats and Hagerstown Suns, the two most dominant teams in the SAL during the first half of 2014, are on the verge of winning the first half in their respective divisions. The Sand Gnats entered Wednesday's game with an overall record of 42-20, including an impressive 24-9 mark on the road. Hagerstown, conversely, has been tough at home, going 23-7 with an overall record of 43-22.
Hickory riding high: The Crawdads tied their franchise record by winning their 10th straight game in a 15-0 victory at Delmarva on June 9, then broke it a night later with an 11-9 triumph over the Shorebirds. The winning streak eclipsed the previous standard that was established in July 2007. In the June 9 contest, pitcher Akeem Bostick put together his best outing of the year, tossing a season-high seven innings and limiting the Shorebirds to two hits and no walks while striking out four to even his record at 3-3.
Torres torching pitchers: Lexington's Ramon Torres had a home run and four RBIs in the Legends' 12-1 win over Asheville on June 9. In his last 10 games, Torres has hit safely in nine, including eight multi-hit outings. He is 19-for-42 (.452) during that stretch, and ranks third in the SAL with a .338 norm for the campaign.