In relationships, we sometimes talk about “The One Who Got Away,” but it applies to fantasy sports just as much. Sometimes we find ourselves enamored with a player heading into a particular season, only to get burned when they fail to live up to our expectations. When the next season rolls around, we tell ourselves that we won’t fall for it again, but then we watch as that player flourishes on another team. It happens to the best of us, repeatedly.
In 2023, that player for me was Josh Lowe.
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I was intrigued by Lowe based on what I read about his progress at the alternate sites during the 2020 COVID season, and then I fell head over heels in 2021 when he hit .291 with 22 home runs and 26 steals at Triple-A. It was the perfect power/speed blend and on a Rays team that would add counting stats. I scooped him up in whatever dynasty leagues he was available and had him all over my 2022 re-draft league teams.
Then he failed to get going out of the gate. The Rays demoted him, but when they called him back up later in the season, I was right there, scooping up all the Josh Lowe shares. And I got nothing for it but a 33.3% strikeout rate.
So when 2023 drafts rolled around, I found myself a little gun shy. I still had Lowe on my boards, but I just wasn’t sure the Rays would give him the playing time so I didn’t want to take him too early. When all my drafts were over, I think I had Lowe on one team, and I watched as he put together a 20 homer, 32 steal season with a .292 average.
My heart hurt, but I swore I would use it as a lesson (which is what I said when I got burned by others before him, but I digress). Then, last week I was listening to an episode of “Bubba and the Bloom” when they mentioned not wanting to miss out on “the next Josh Lowe” and that gave me an idea. If we can try to find out who the “next Josh Lowe” is then maybe none of us have to go through that heartbreak again!
So how can we do that? Well, I looked at what Lowe did in 2022, with 198 plate appearances in the big leagues with a negative offensive WAR and I decided to create a leaderboard. I looked for rookies in 2022 who had at least 100 MLB plate appearances and had an offensive WAR under 1.0. I also looked for players who were legitimate prospects, either making top 100 lists or featured inside their own team’s top 100.
The next step was my own personal sorting. I looked beyond the surface-level stats (since the point is that they would have been bad), and I looked at barrel rate, max exit velocity, swinging strike rate, chase rates, and overall contact just to get a sense for who has a workable approach at the plate and who was able to make solid contact overall contact. Even in Lowe’s bad 2022 call-up, he had an O-Swing% under 30%, a slightly above league average SwStr%, a 5.2% barrel rate, and had good minor league batted ball data so there were hints at a viable fantasy profile (especially since we knew his scouting report).
When all of that was done, I had eight players that I think could be the “next Josh Lowe” and two players who technically fit the criteria but are being drafted far too high right now. For me, part of being “the next Josh Lowe” is about somebody drastically outearning their ADP value after a tough rookie season, so I guess ADP is the final component. We’ll go through the case for each of these hitters and then I’ll anoint the 2024 Josh Lowe at the end of the article.
Also, just to get this out of the way so there are no comments after, if you don’t see a player you think had a bad rookie season, I’d encourage you to check their offensive WAR because many players who seemed to not live up to the hype actually had solid offensive seasons.
All ADP is from NFBC Drafts from February 1st through February 11th (31 drafts)
Brice Turang – 2B, Milwaukee (ADP: 322)
We’ll start with the one that checked the fewest boxes in 2023. Turang played in 137 games for the Brewers in 2023, slashing .218/.285/.300 with six home runs, 46 runs, 34 RBI, and 26 steals. The steals obviously jump out at you since speed is also a big part of Lowe’s fantasy value; however, Turang lacks power upside. He had just a 2.9% barrel rate and 108.2 mph max exit velocity in 2023. In fact, his -18.1 offensive WAR is the second-worst of any player on this list.
However, a couple of things work in his favor. For starters, he has tremendous plate discipline, with just 30.2% chase rate in 2023. He made an impressive 82.6% overall contact and had just an 8.2% swinging strike rate (SwStr%), which is good for a 23-year-old in his first taste of the big leagues. There may also be some signs of improvement in his minor league batted ball data. Turang did post a 36.2% hard hit rate in Triple-A last year, with a .561 slugging percentage and a .926 OPS; however, that was in just 57 at-bats, so it’s a small sample size. In his 532 at-bats in Triple-A in 2022, he had just a 24.8% hard hit rate, .412 slugging percentage, and .772 OPS, so that may be a better indication of his overall contact quality, which is not what we’re hoping to see.
At the end of the day, Turang’s plate discipline and contact skills suggest his batting average should improve from 2023, but he also started to make some really poor decisions at the plate once MLB teams started to figure out where to pitch him.
That’s a bit of a converning development, and while his speed is certainly an asset, I don’t love his lack of authoritative contact, which makes me question his overall upside for fantasy. He could simply settle in as a deep league steals target, and while I think he can outearn his ADP, perhaps not in a way that makes him the next Josh Lowe.
Henry Davis – C/OF, Pirates (ADP: 285)
Davis had 255 plate appearances for the Pirates in 2023, slashing .213/.302/.351 with seven home runs, 27 runs, 24 RBI, and three steals. His 7% barrel rate and 109.9 mph max exit velocity were both better than what Lowe showed in 2022 and point to better power potential than Turang, but he lacks fantasy-relevant speed (obviously on both counts).
Interestingly, Davis also didn’t hit the ball hard in the minors either, posting a 28.6% hard hit rate. He did slug .588 with a .986 OPS, and pulled the ball 53% of the time in the minors, which makes it a little easier for him to get to that power. That number was also 49% in his MLB at-bats, so he will get to that pull power more than some others on this list, which is important because his average exit velocity was 47th among all rookies with over 100 at-bats last year. His exit velocity on pulled fly balls was 96.2 mph which isn’t the mark of a big-time power bat, but it’s the same as Edouard Julien and Brandon Drury, so it’s enough to leave the yard.
While Davis did chase out of the zone a decent amount last year, at 32%, he only had an 11.5% SwStr%, which is better than league average. His 74.1% contact rate leaves a little to be desired, but was better than what Josh Lowe did in 2022. However, the question is how much fantasy value Davis can give you with maybe eight stolen base speed and the power profile to perhaps be more of a 15-18 home run hitter. I’m just not sure that’s a hitter that makes you laugh gleefully at all the shares you have.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Davis is set to move back to catcher this year, but it’s a position that he needed to put a lot of work into defensively to be valuable as an MLB regular. We have seen player whose offense suffers when they must devote so much attention to their defense. It’s not a lock to be the case with Davis, but it is a potential factor.
Lawrence Butler – OF, Athletics (ADP: 644)
Butler is likely the longest shot to make this article, which you can tell by his ADP, but I felt he was worthy of a short write-up. As of now, according to Roster Resource, Butler does not have a starting job in Oakland; however, the starting outfield of Esteury Ruiz, JJ Bleday, and Seth Brown doesn’t really inspire tons of confidence. Brown has been a solid fantasy asset at times in his career, but he will also turn 32-years-old during the season and could be an attractive trade chip as a left-handed bench bat. Bleday has also never lived up to his draft status, so there are some paths for Butler to work back into the lineup.
He was not particularly good in his 42 MLB games with a .211/.240/.341 slash line but that’s also the purpose of this article, right? Butler did also post a 111-mph max exit velocity during his time in the big leagues with a 9% barrel rate that’s actually highest of anybody on this list not named Elly De La Cruz (who doesn’t really qualify). Butler also posted a 31.7% hard-hit rate in the minors in 2023 and had showed incredible improvements in his strikeout rate, with an 18.9% mark in 89 minor league games in 2023 after sporting a mark above 32% in his 84 games in 2022. While that didn’t carry over into his big league sample, 42 games is not yet enough to say the low strikeout rates beforehand were a fluke, and now I’m kind of intrigued that Butler may actually be making really meaningful improvements.
Additionally, while Butler didn’t steal any bases in the majors, he had 21 steals and 15 home runs in the minors before his call-up but possesses just 53rd-percentile sprint speed. He was caught just twice in the minors but didn’t even attempt a steal in his 42 MLB games, which suggests he may not run as much against big league catchers. That will obviously hurt his ability to have a Josh Lowe season in 2024; however, he does lift the ball enough to pop some home runs if he can get his MLB pull% up to what he did in the minors. Even in his tough home park, he could be a 15+ home run bat if he got full-time playing time, but he likely won’t pop double-digit steals, and he profiles as more of a .250-.260 hitter, even if we buy his improvements at Triple-A.
I actually think I’m talking myself into Lawrence Butler here, but it’s hard to call him the next Josh Lowe when he doesn’t yet have a spot in the starting lineup. Then again, I didn’t think Josh Lowe would last year either.
Brenton Doyle – OF Rockies (ADP: 483)
I posted a tweet in support of Doyle over the weekend and caught some flack for it, in part because I was citing outdated ADP (my bad), but also because people looked at his 17.5% SwStr% and 66.4% contact rate and said, “This is gross.” And, to be clear, I agree that it’s gross; however, I still think there is some fantasy appeal here.
For starters, Doyle posted an 111-mph max exit velocity and 8.7% barrel rate in his 126 MLB games, so he doesn’t swing a wet noodle. He also pulled the ball 42.5% of the time and had an average exit velocity on pulled fly balls of 97.7 mph, which is the same as Patrick Wisdom and Luis Robert Jr. Now, Doyle only pulled the ball in the air 34.7% of the time, and that’s likely always going to be the case because he has 98th-percentile sprint speed, so keeping the ball low and hard will allow him to run higher BABIPs and prop up his batting average.
However, that also didn’t happen in 2023 with just a .203 average (and .203 xBA). He also had a career low .295 BABIP, so I expect that to improve given his speed and contact quality, so you could see him push .240, but he’s not going to spike a .290 average like Lowe because he simply swings and misses too much. Even in the minors, he never posted a strikeout rate below 30% after his 50 games in Rookie ball, so there’s no way to expect him to suddenly make those gains at the big league level; however, he did improve in terms of making contact as the season went on, so there is some hope that he at least settles in to become just slightly below average with his contact rate overall. Yay, big wins.
Still, Doyle is an elite defensive CF with plus speed, so he should be locked into over 500 plate appearances for the Rockies this year. He could hit .230 with 15 home runs and 25+ steals, and that would be a pretty useful season, especially at that ADP, but he’ll also hit at the bottom of a bad Rockies lineup, so I don’t expect useful Runs and RBI totals, and that could hurt his case to be this year’s Josh Lowe. That and the very real possibility that he also hits below .210 again.
Jordan Westburg – 2B/3B, Orioles (ADP: 312)
Westburg may be a bit of a fringe candidate because he didn’t quite have the prospect pedigree that Josh Lowe did. However, Westburg was good in Triple-A in 2023, slashing .295/.372/.567 with 18 home runs and six steals in 67 games. That came with a 33.3% hard-hit rate, which shows a bit of power potential that was supported by a 111.4 mph max exit velocity in the major leagues.
However, Westburg bats right-handed in a park that isn’t conducive to power, and despite pulling the ball 46.5% of the time in 2023, he only pulled nine fly balls with an average exit velocity of just 91.6 mph and none of them resulted in home runs. In fact, Westburg hit just one home run at home in 2023 and had a .662 OPS. While he had only two home runs on the road (small sample size and all), he had a much better .768 OPS.
Westburg did steal 10 total bases last year and has 88th-percentile sprint speed, so there should be more room for growth, but he has also never stolen over 12 bases in a season which calls his overall steals upside into question. Perhaps he gets bad jumps or just isn’t aggressive enough, but it would be tough to predict him to steal 15+ despite his speed.
Lastly, the playing time is a bit of a concern. The Orioles have Gunnar Henderson locked into one infield spot and seem ready to give top prospect Jackson Holliday a chance to win a job in spring training, even saying Holliday will play some 2B this spring. That seems to leave one infield spot for Westburg, but if he doesn’t perform well to start the year, the Orioles also have top prospects Connor Norby and Coby Mayo knocking on the door. In addition to that, they traded for infielders Tyler Nevin and Nick Maton this offseason and neither one of them has any options remaining, which means they either need to be on the Orioles’ active roster or be cut in the spring (which is entirely possible).
But it all leads to the ultimate question of if Westburg has the playing time and power/speed potential to qualify as the next Josh Lowe? I came away impressed by the overall tools that Westburg has but wonder why he never posted higher home run or steals totals in the minors despite is raw tools.
Zach Neto – SS, Angels (ADP: 302)
Neto may not be the first option that comes to your head when you think of the next Josh Lowe, but he does have a decent case. For starters, Neto has a decent amount of prospect pedigree as the 13th overall pick in the 2022 MLB draft and the second-ranked prospect in the Angels system before his call-up. The 22-year-old slashed a combined .322/.408/.529 with eight homers, 10 doubles, eight stolen bases and 37 RBIs in 44 games in the minors.
He also made much better contact than many people give him credit for, posting an 8.8% barrel rate in 84 major league games, to go along with nine home runs. Of course, he only slashed .225/.308/.377, but he had a .825 slugging percentage and 1.357 OPS in 40 at-bats in the high minors in 2023 to go along with a 32.1% hard-hit rate, and posted above league average hard-hit rates for much of his rookie season, so there is non-zero power in the bat.
He also posted a 50% pull rate in Double-A and a 46.8% mark in the majors, so he tries to get to that power often. Considering he pulled 16 fly balls at an average of 97 mph and seven of them left the yard, that should catch our attention. That 97 mph exit velocity on pulled fly balls is the same as Julio Rodriguez, Lane Thomas, and Josh Bell in 2023.
However, Neto may lack the speed component. He stole just eight bases all of last season and has just 59th-percentile sprint speed. Neto also posted an elevated 12.9% SwStr% in his major league at-bats, which came with a 72.8% contact rate despite not really chasing out of the zone a lot. That is kind of in line with Josh Lowe and will likely keep Neto as a .250-.260 hitter unless we see some real improvement over this offseason. I do think Neto can hit 20 home runs, and while he doesn’t have the speed component to be the next Josh Lowe, he does seem aggressive on the basepaths, so a 20/10 season could be entirely feasible. I’m just not sure a 23-year-old with 48 minor league games will be able to make the gains we saw Lowe make in 2023.
Alec Burleson – OF, Cardinals (ADP: 635)
Burleson may not qualify in terms of the prospect pedigree component, as he’s certainly not as well-regarded a prospect as Lowe was, but there are some intriguing aspects of his rookie season that warrant a deeper look.
For starters, Burleson posted a 110.6 max exit velocity in his 347 MLB plate appearances and despite having a slightly below-average 29.5% hard-hit rate in the minors in 2022, he also slugged .532 that season with a .907 OPS. In the majors last year, he posted just a 5.8% barrel rate and had a 95.1 mph average exit velocity on his pulled fly balls, so it’s not truly plus exit velocity, but, then again, Lowe doesn’t have that either. In fact, Burleson pulls the ball as much as Lowe and only hits it in the air 2% less often, so Burleson emerging as a 20 home run bat is entirely possible.
Burleson also makes elite contact with an 84.5% contact rate last year and an 8% SwStr%. That should give him a better batting average floor than Lowe would seemingly provide despite Lowe hitting over .290 last year.
The big issues here are Burleson’s lack of speed and clear path to playing time. The speed component is most glaring given that he has just 12th-percentile sprint speed. He’s not likely to steal more than a handful of bases, and if he doesn’t have five category upside, can he be the next Josh Lowe? He also currently doesn’t factor into the Cardinals’ starting lineup, with Brendan Donovan a leading candidate to be the DH and Tommy Edman slated to start alongside Jordan Walker and Lars Nootbaar in the outfield. Now, Burleson could certainly push Donovan for at-bats and overtake Dylan Carlson on the depth chart, but it feels likely that Burleson is more of a fourth-outfielder type and won’t get the at-bats to be the next Josh Lowe.
Elly De La Cruz – SS, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 24)
I’m not going to pick De La Cruz at the end. We’ll just get that out of the way right now. Not because I don’t think he can bounce back, but because he’s currently being drafted inside the top 25 overall picks so it seems like literally everybody thinks he’ll bounce back, and I just don’t see any way that he outproduces that ADP.
Now, De La Cruz did produce fantasy goodness is 2023 because he had 13 home runs and 35 steals in 98 games, so he might not really qualify for this list; however, he also ranked 42nd among all rookies with over 100 plate appearances with a -3.3 offensive WAR. That’s worse than Miles Mastrobuoni and Blake Perkins. Obviously, a .235 average and 33.7% strikeout rate will do that to you.
I like De La Cruz as a player, but I’m out on him at cost, and part of what made Josh Lowe so great in 2023 was how much he out-produced his ADP. I don’t believe that will be De La Cruz, and you can read all about why in my article on players who graded out as the lowest on plate discipline metrics in 2023.
Anthony Volpe – SS, Yankees (ADP: 137)
Similar to De La Cruz, Volpe doesn’t really qualify as the next Josh Lowe because people don’t seem to be scared off by his 2023 season in the way they were with Lowe heading into last year.
In his debut season, Volpe hit .209/.283/.383 with a 27.8% strikeout rate. That was good for a -7.8 offensive WAR, which was 54th among all rookie hitters with over 100 plate appearances. However, he also had 21 home runs and 24 steals, and so his ADP remains relatively high heading into the 2024 season.
While I think he will produce fantasy goodness in 2024, I’m not convinced it will be at a rate that far exceeds his ADP. While a lot was made during the season of Volpe discussing his swing with fellow Yankee prospects over chicken parmesan and uncovering flaws in his mechanics, we didn’t really see a major improvement. He initially went on a hot streak, slashing .314/.415/.514. with a home run and four doubles in his first 12 games after the adjustment, things settled down. From that chicken parm dinner on, Volpe slashed .225/.300/.410 with 12 home runs, 10 steals, and a 25.6% strikeout rate to go along with an 8.5% walk rate. While that’s an improvement from the .186/.260/.345 slash line and 30.8% strikeout rate in his first 67 games, it’s a far cry from a breakout.
Volpe has tremendous power/speed upside, but he was a career .262 minor league hitter with a 257/166 K/BB ratio in 275 minor league games. Low batting average and strikeouts will likely always be a part of his game and could prevent the Yankees from hitting him at the top of the lineup, which would impact his run totals as well. He’ll still be valuable in fantasy, but I don’t see him becoming a major draft day value at this cost, and so he can’t be the next Josh Lowe.
Parker Meadows – OF, Tigers (ADP: 276)
I’m cheating a bit here because Meadows had an offensive WAR of 2, but he also hit just .232 with a strikeout rate just under 26%, and I think many people who considering his first 145 plate appearances in the majors a bit underwhelming from a fantasy perspective.
When you look at Meadows’ minor league batted ball data, it’s also not overly exciting. He had just a 26.9% hard-hit rate in the minors in 2023, which is not great, and posted a .474 slugging percentage and .812 OPS which don’t really excite you for a top prospect in 450 at-bats in Triple-A. Yet, there might be more there under the surface.
His 95-mph average exit velocity on pulled fly balls is not eye-popping but is actually better than what Lowe produced in 2023, so the right approach could give Meadows enough ability to not hurt your power production in fantasy. In his brief MLB stint in 2023, he pulled the ball 40.4% of the time and lifted it 42% of the time, which is pretty much in line with the hitter he was at Triple-A, and that’s OK. Meadows is not a hitter we want to sell out for power because he has consistently used all fields and does not possess a power profile; yet, knowing that he has the batted ball skills and approach to at least hit 15 home runs is important from a fantasy perspective.
Especially when you consider that he has 90th-percentile sprint speed. Meadows stole eight bases in nine attempts in his 37 MLB games and stole 19 bases in 21 attempts in Triple-A before his call-up. After starting his career as an inefficient baserunner, he’s only been thrown out five times in 44 attempts in his last two seasons. I think there’s some 15/20 upside here with a full-time job, which is exactly what Meadows seems to have waiting for him in Detroit.
I’m not fully sold on the batting average since he never hit above .275 in Double-A or Triple-A, but Meadows has gotten his swinging strike rate in check as he climbed to the high minors and sported an 87.4% zone contact rate in his MLB debut.
I think a .250-.260 average with 15+ home runs and 20 steals while hitting at the top of an improving Tigers lineup is certainly in play.
Brett Baty – 3B, Mets
At first glance, Brett Baty is probably the most obvious choice to take the mantle of much-hyped prospect who didn’t deliver in his first taste of the big leagues but becomes a big-time fantasy asset in his second chance. He makes perhaps the most meaningful contact of any player on this list. He had a max exit velocity of 113.7 mph in the big leagues last year, a 7.6% barrel rate, and posted an absurd 48.7% hard-hit rate in his 104 Triple-A at-bats after being demoted. He also slugged .625 with a 1.013 OPS during that stint.
Despite that, he’s never really run high pull rates or fly ball rates, with just a 37% pull rate and 27.3% fly ball rate in the big leagues last year and jus a 31.6% fly ball rate in the minors. That could cap his power production, especially since his average exit velocity on pulled fly balls is 94.8 mph, which isn’t bad but isn’t good enough to drive the ball out of the park consistently without getting to his power alley. He hit nine home runs in 108 games for the Mets last year, and feels like he might have a 12-15 home run ceiling without an approach change. That’s not exactly the profile I expected when I started digging in.
Given that Baty also stole only four bases last year and has 49th-percentile sprint speed, it’s hard to see a path where he becomes as valuable for fantasy as Lowe was, or really close to it. He has good plate discipline, with a 13.2% walk rate in the minors last year, but he did post a 13.2% SwStr% in the majors and also struck out 24% of the time at Triple-A, so he may be more of a .260 hitter without a lot of power and little speed. If he gets full playing time with the Mets, perhaps that’s a .260, 16 HR, two steal season with 140 R+RBI, but I’m not sure that makes you feel as excited to have him on your roster as it did when you drafted Lowe in 2023.
The Next Josh Lowe Is…
In the end, it came down to Meadows or Neto for me, but the Tigers outfielder wins by virtue of his potential to contribute in five categories, the likelihood of him seeing at least 450 plate appearances, his higher spot in the order in a better lineup, and his low ADP. I also was tempted to put Lawrence Butler into this conversation, and if it looks like he may break camp with the big-league team than I’d certainly be picking up shares as a potential 2024 Josh Lowe.