After the arrival of Jordan Westburg to the majors this week, can outfielder Colton Cowser be too far behind? He could be in the on-deck circle at this point, putting up outstanding numbers this year at Triple-A while taking his plate discipline to a higher level.
Working against Cowser at the moment is the fact that the O’s outfield has been really good with a potential All-Star in Austin Hays, the return of Cedric Mullins, the recent power display of Anthony Santander and the solid play of Aaron Hicks. If they want Cowser to come up and step right in the lineup, this may not be the perfect time for that.
But after a slow start this year for Triple-A Norfolk – he was 3-for-30 at one point – his bat is now raking. Cowser had another good night last night in Norfolk's win, going 2-for-3 with a double, two walks, a run and an RBI.
For the year over 53 games, he is batting .328/.458/.534 with a .992 OPS, 10 doubles, a triple, nine homers, 49 runs and 37 RBIs.
In addition to that, he has increased his walk rate from 10.5 to 18.3 this season and lowered his strikeout rate from 30.6 to 23.8.
“He commands the strike zone so well, so right there he gives himself a chance,” Norfolk manager Buck Britton told me in a recent interview. “You know he is going to be swinging at good pitches to hit. He’s a strong kid and can run a little bit. If you look at his track record, the guy just has always hit.”
And he is not wrong about that. Last year, the player the Orioles drafted No. 5 overall out of Sam Houston State produced an OPS of .875 for three teams. He played 62 games for High-A Aberdeen, 49 for Double-A Bowie and 27 at the end of the year for Norfolk.
“He has tremendous bat-to-ball skill and because he walks and has the ability to make contact and doesn’t chase pitches outside the zone, put that all together and it’s a guy with an OPS approaching 1.000 and hitting .330, .340. Pretty good,” said Britton.
Cowser missed time recently, a couple of weeks in late May, with a quad injury. In 30 games before the injury, he hit .394 with an OPS of 1.208.
And going back to Norfolk after getting a taste of that level late last year, you would hope he could improve his plate discipline stats. And he sure has.
“Exactly,” said Britton. “And he commands the zone so well. I know he is a guy that is probably getting close to his opportunity too and we’re going to see how it translates to the big leagues.
“I hadn’t see much of Cowser before, just a few games late last year and this is my first time seeing him for a half-season every day and the strike zone awareness, it’s incredible. I think too with this ABS system we have up here, the automatic balls and strikes, you know, it’s gotta be in the zone. There are no pitches being called outside of the zone. Because of that, his eye at the plate is helped out by that as well.”
* The good plate discipline begins on the farm: After seeing several O's players progress on the farm with such good command of the strike zone – with Westburg being the latest to show it – manager Brandon Hyde discussed how well the O's are doing with plate discipline skills in their minor leagues.
Hyde noted how Westburg worked a walk in his first time to bat on Monday in the second inning. He fell behind 0-2, took a few close pitches, worked the count full and drew a seven-pitch walk. It was a poised at-bat from someone who knows the strike zone and showed it there.
"That was really great for me to see," said Hyde. "To be able to lay off sliders below (the zone), so tough as a young player. Especially one that is anxious and trying to deliver.
"We're doing great organizationally in our minor league system with our hitting guys of having guys know the importance of understanding the strike zone. And what pitches to offer to. Knowing yourself – what you can drive and what you can't. Being able to to get into counts to do damage. That has been huge for us."
In his first three major leagues games, Westburg is 5-for-12 (.417) with a double, two walks, two RBIs and two runs.
"As these guys have gotten to the big leagues, almost every single one of them have really pretty good knowledge of it," Hyde said. "They are also drafting guys with that knowledge already, and they are getting better and better as their minor league careers go on.
"With the way pitching is today and how tough it is to hit, if you don't know the strike zone it's even harder. We're doing a really good in the organization stressing how important that is."
Hyde added that the Orioles now have "caught up, so to speak with our division" in that regard, meaning in on-base and plate discipline skills: "This division understands the strike zone so well and we have guys that can really handle and manage the strike zone (now also)."