Former Durham Bulls find themselves among baseball’s best

Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe make All-Star team within a year

Just over a year after playing in Durham, Brandon Lowe meets with the media at his first MLB All Star Game (photo by Shawn Krest)

Brandon Lowe can be excused for forgetting the exact timeline. Things have been going high speed for him.

“A year ago today, I think I’m still in Montgomery,” he said. After thinking about it for a second, he corrected that. “No. I was in Durham.”

For the record, Lowe was promoted from Double-A Montgomery to the Triple-A  Bulls on June 7 of last season, a full month earlier than he estimated while meeting the media the day before his first MLB All-Star Game.

“Everything has moved so fast,” he said. “It’s been a crazy ride, but it’s been incredible.”

Lowe is one of two players who went from the minor league Bulls to representing the Rays in Cleveland at the All Star Game earlier this month in less than a year.

The other, outfielder Austin Meadows, wasn’t even a member of the Rays organization a year ago. He was traded from Pittsburgh to Tampa at the July 31 deadline, as part of a package of prospects that sent pitcher Chris Archer to the Pirates.

Meadows had played part of the season for the Pirates, getting 154 at bats before the trade, but afterward, he found himself in a new organization, and back in the minors, playing for the Bulls while waiting for a spot to open up in Tampa.

He found himself confiding in Tyler Glasnow, the left-handed pitcher that was also dealt to the Rays for Archer.

“If definitely did help coming over here together,” he said. “I was in Durham, and he went up to the big leagues, but to go through the process together—if it was just me going through it, it would’ve been tough. But having Tyler there with me, talking about what the future holds, was definitely very helpful.”

So were his Bulls teammates, who accepted him immediately.

“My time in Durham was probably the most fun I’ve had in my career,” he said. “Being with those guys, being able to win a championship with the team, growing with those guys. Any time you get traded to another organization, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know how guys are going to embrace you, but those guys were like family. It was like I’d played with those guys five or six years. Being able to come over here and go to Durham was nothing but an awesome experience.”

In 27 games with the Bulls, Meadows hit .344 with 10 home runs, earning a September call-up to Tampa. He’s made the most of his opportunity there, hitting .292 this season with 13 homers and 43 RBI. The performance earned him a spot on the American League All Stars, where he played two positions in the game, although his experience ended on a sour note, as he came down with a case of food poisoning.

Still, he enjoyed his All-Star experience, bad food and all. “It’s been surreal, being able to come here,” he said. “That first day, seeing the guys like Mike Trout, George Springer and everyone just walking around the clubhouse. These were guys I grew up watching. Guys I idolized. I’m glad I was able to share it with my family.”

Lowe also had an up-and-down trip to Cleveland. Like Meadows, he took a fast track to the majors, hitting 14 home runs in 46 games with the Bulls before getting an early-August promotion to The Show.  He hit six home runs in just over a month with the Rays, earning a six-year contract extension over the winter.

This year, he leads Tampa in home runs (16), RBI (49) and is second to Meadows (.881) in OPS (.862). That earned him an All-Star nod as an injury replacement, although he himself ended up getting injured and having to sit out the game.

“I’ve never had anything like that,” he said of the fluke injury. “I’ve fouled balls off my leg—it comes with the territory of being a hitter. I’ve never not been able to walk. Every day, I was like, ‘Yeah, it hurts today, but I’ll be fine tomorrow.’ That didn’t happen.”

He tried to look at the bright side of not being able to play in the game.

“There’s a silver lining,” he said. “It gives me the chance to take in the whole atmosphere. I don’t have to get ready for the game. I don’t have to lock in. I’m not in that focus of the game. Now I can look into the stands, relax a little bit and really get a grasp of everything that’s happening. Hopefully this isn’t my only one and I can come back next year and contribute.”

If that’s the case, maybe they’ll get his name right. During pregame introductions, announcer Joe Buck pronounced his last name “Low” with a long o, instead of “Lau,” earning him some ribbing from teammates.

Still, a year ago, when he was in Durham and Meadows was on the verge of heading there, neither considered they were 12 short months from having their names on Joe Buck’s lips.

Lowe credits the Rays with giving him and other prospects in Durham the chance to prove themselves.

“It seems like it’s happening that way,” he said. “They’ve called up a bunch of guys this year. They’re not against using their guys and taking chances on them. Thankfully they took a chance on me, and it’s paying off.”