After the 2008 season, it looked like Lowrie was well on his way to being the long-term answer at shortstop, something the Red Sox haven't had since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004. Lowrie hit .258 with two home runs and 46 RBIs in 260 at-bats and played above-average defense at both shortstop (45 starts) and third base (22 starts).
That earned Lowrie the chance to compete with Julio Lugo for the starting shortstop job entering spring training last season. A couple of weeks before the season started, though, a knee injury to Lugo effectively handed the position to Lowrie. All he had to do was continue to build on what he started in 2008, and it would be clear sailing.
But after just five games, Lowrie followed Lugo to the disabled list with a left wrist injury. When Lowrie came back in July, he split time with his replacement, Nick Green. Then in August, the Red Sox traded for Alex Gonzalez, who got the bulk of the playing time down the stretch.
Lowrie finished the season hitting just .147 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 68 at-bats. His defense dropped off, too, as the wrist continued to nag him throughout the season.
"We have not seen the type of player he can be yet at the big league level because he's been playing hurt the entire time," general manager Theo Epstein said after the season.
But will Lowrie, 25, even get that chance this season? He can play second, short or third. But with Dustin Pedroia at second, Marco Scutaro at short, Adrian Beltre at third, Mike Lowell still on the roster and Bill Hall — who can play all three positions as well — serving as utility man, it's difficult to figure out what Lowrie's role might be.
Assuming he's healthy, the best thing for his development is to play every day rather than sit on the bench and get a start every 10 days or so. Barring some crazy turn of events in spring training, a regular starting gig is not going to happen in Boston. Although Lowrie would be great insurance for the big league club, he should start the season in Pawtucket.
There, the former Stanford standout can get his swing back, get his feel in the field back and continue building up the strength in his recovering wrist. If there's an injury on the Red Sox, they can call him up then. But there's no reason to have Lowrie sit behind five other infielders.
Lowrie's next shot at being a starter for the Red Sox might not come until next season, and it might be at third base. Scutaro is locked up for the next two seasons at short, but Beltre is only signed through the end of this season at third. Plus, by the time Scutaro's contract is up, 20-year-old Jose Iglesias, heralded as an outstanding defensive shortstop, may be ready for the bigs.
For now, though, the Red Sox just want Lowrie to get healthy.
"We are all excited to see how Jed looks in spring training," manager Terry Francona wrote in his latest NESN.com mailbag. "He has worked very hard, and the reports on his wrist are encouraging.
"We will get a much better read after he has gotten into baseball shape and strung some games together. Last spring, he looked so good early, and then the wrist flared up. He has worked diligently with our trainers on methods to help secure his wrist during games."
Lowrie's future may not be clear, but one thing is: He's not a lost cause. He's already proven he can be productive in the majors. Now he just needs to prove he can stay healthy.
NESN.com will answer one Red Sox question every day through Feb. 23.
Thursday, Feb. 4: How will Mike Lowell handle camp?
Saturday, Feb. 6: Will Marco Scutaro break the Red Sox' shortstop jinx?
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