If Jason Lowey was 21 instead of 25, there’s no way that he’d be an independent leaguer.
As an effective closer with a fastball that touches 94-95 mph, Lowey has the kind of stuff that teams are always looking for in a pitcher. The only problem for Lowey is that they are looking for it in a younger package. Because he’s a 25-year-old, scouts have held back from signing Lowey. They may not check your ID when you step onto the pitcher’s mound, but scouts are sure to check it before they sign you to a contract.
“If it was three to four years ago for him with this stuff, he wouldn’t be here. You take a 21-year-old kid throwing 94 and he’d drafted,” River City manager Steve Brook said. “That’s the difference between scouting this level and scouting the collegiate or high school level. If he was in high school, or college, he’d be drafted.”
Because of his age, Lowey wears the title of three-time Frontier League all-star next to his name, and as of yet, no affiliated ball contract. But Lowey’s stuff is proving good enough that even his age may not stand in the way of an affiliated contract. When he started pitching as a senior at Mercer, he sat in the upper 80s, occasionaly brushing 90 mph on the radar gun. But every year since, as he’s gotten more comfortable pitching (and had a chance to work on strengthening his legs and shoulder), he’s gained a little velocity. With Windy City in 2008, Lowey sat at 90 mph or so, but by last year in River City he was regularly hitting 92-93 mph. This year, he’s shown some 94s and 95s, which makes him one of the hardest throwers in the independent leagues.
Most indy ball pitchers who can light up a radar gun do it by raring back and letting go with a max effort delivery that sacrifices control for velocity. Even though his 5-foot-10 frame isn’t exactly what you’d expect for a hard-thrower, Lowery manages to get his velocity with a relatively controlled delivery, the same way he did when he had an average fastball. Now it just comes out of his hand with a whole lot more oomph.
“I can feel a difference. It’s getting there quicker now than it used to,” Lowey said. “Some nights are better than others. I can see the difference when I throw it by someone. It’s a different feeling. I still obviously try to paint and hit my spots, but I don’t get hurt when I lose one over the middle of the plate nearly as much as I did when I was throwing 90.”
River City Pipeline
If Lowey does get signed, he’ll become the latest in what’s become a River City specialty. Joe Thatcher pitched for the Rascals before being signed by the Brewers as a 24-year-old in 2005. Two years later, he was pitching in the Padres’ big league bullpen. At the time Thatcher was breaking into the big leagues, the Rascals were breaking in a new closer. The next year, Mike Benacka dominated the league for half of 2008 before signing with the Athletics. He was in Triple-A a year later, going 0-1, 1.98 with 18 strikeouts in 13 innings. This year he was 4-2, 3.65 for Triple-A Sacramento with 45 strikeouts in his first 34 innings.
River City manager Steve Brook says that Lowey’s pure stuff is better than either Thatcher or Benacka, although that doesn’t mean he’s better than those two—yet.
“Take away two pitches from Lowey and he has a sub-1.00 ERA this year,” Brooks said. “I’ve seen Thatcher. I’ve seen Benacka. Jason has the best stuff of those three. But those guys had the pitch they could get outs with in the zone. Maybe he develops the cutter or a little more movement on the sinker. Once he does that he has the ability to go on and succeed (in more advanced leagues).”
Right now, Lowey gets his strikeouts by throwing sliders away and fastballs in. But he has started to get comfortable with throwing a cutter, using Mariano Rivera’s cutter grip, which gives him a pitch to either get strikeouts in the zone, or more often, break bats with weak contact.
If a scout does check out Lowey, he’ll need to check the roster. His twin brother Josh is a starting pitcher for the Rascals. Although he lacks his brother’s velocity, his career has followed a very similar track. They played in Little League together, then played together through high school, junior college and at Mercer. They even both switched from hitting to pitching in the same year. Jason finished his college career one year before Josh because Josh redshirted, but they reunited in Windy City in 2008 and have played together in River City the past two years.
• It’s not been a good couple of months for several independent leagues. The Continental League, which has struggled with poor attendance and too many travel teams for years, ended its 2010 season early. Big Bend defeated Las Cruces two games to one to win the title. After the championship, the league disbanded all but four teams, who have been invited to join the new Pecos League, with Las Cruces owner Andrew Dunn serving as the commissioner of the new league. The Pecos League plans to begin play in 2011.
• Over in the Golden League, the league dissolved its affiliation agreement with the Venezuela-based group that had been running the Yuma Scorpions. The league was forced to step in after learning that the players, coaches and vendors were not being paid. The league has also had to take over the Tijuana franchise after the team’s uniforms were repossessed and most of the team’s players quit because they hadn’t been paid. Now the league’s St. George’s ownership group has folded as well.