April 20, 2011

On Baseball: Lowrie and Spears have roles to play

Red Sox staff recognize the former Sea Dogs' versatility, and that's likely their ticket to Fenway Park.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

DUNEDIN, Fla. — When shortstop Jed Lowrie came out of Monday's spring training game, Nate Spears did what he's getting used to doing -- changing positions. Spears moved from left field to shortstop.

And if Spears can keep following Lowrie -- say, all the way to the big leagues, that would be fine with him.

Lowrie and Spears represent two varied stories that began at Hadlock Field.

Lowrie, 26, was one of the celebrated early picks in the 2005 draft, which included Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden. He reached Portland in 2007 and was playing in the American League Championship Series in 2008.

Spears, 25, was a minor league free agent when he came to Portland in 2010. Such a status usually means a career in the minor leagues. But Spears has made an impression on the Red Sox.

Even though he has no experience in the bigs, Spears was invited to Boston's major league camp this spring, receiving ample playing time.

"He's been tremendous," Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said. "And he is about as nice a young man as you're ever going to meet.

"He plays a lot of positions, and he plays them well. And, last year, he was productive."

Spears batted .272 for the Sea Dogs last year, with 30 doubles and a career-high 20 home runs. He also walked 84 times for a .384 on-base percentage.

Spears went 2 for 3 Monday and scored a run. He's now batting .295 with three triples and nine walks.

"He's had a great spring," Francona said. "He's going to go to Houston with us, kind of as a reward."

Spears will play with the Red Sox in their final exhibition on Wednesday in Houston before flying back to join Triple-A Pawtucket.

"It's been a blast. I'll enjoy it while it lasts," Spears said. "It's good to be able to turn a couple of heads."

It does not matter if Lowrie turns heads. He's not going anywhere. Lowrie, who went 0 for 4 on Monday, is batting .250. But if Lowrie was batting .350, his place with the Red Sox is pretty well established -- as a utility player.

A wrist injury that carried over from 2008 to 2009 limited Lowrie. Then a bout of mononucleosis slowed him last year. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have shortstop Marco Scutaro under contract, with an option next year, and the whiz kid from Cuba, Jose Iglesias, is waiting his turn to move up.

Lowrie, it seems, is in limbo. Reminded of the cliche often repeated in the minors -- that you can't worry about what you can't control -- Lowrie let out a knowing laugh.

"I don't know what else to do at this point but prepare myself every day," Lowrie said.

Actually, Lowrie has done more than that. He will soon be a college graduate, with a bachelor's degree in political science from Stanford.

Having signed with the Red Sox after three years with Stanford, Lowrie had taken all of his required courses for his major. He only had to accumulate enough credits with elective courses. He recently completed those and will await his diploma in June. It will come in the mail since commencement is June 12, and Lowrie has a scheduling conflict: a 1 p.m. game in Toronto.

Since Lowrie has become adept at playing all four infield positions, he will be handy to have around. A switch-hitter, Lowrie hits lefties particularly well (.324 career average).

Lowrie also provides insurance if a starter is injured.

And the same could be said of Spears. He likely will start at second base for Pawtucket but can be plugged in anywhere.

Lowrie and Spears, two infielders who took different paths to Portland, might both be helping the Red Sox before the year is over.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: kthomas@pressherald.com

 

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