Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton summoned Colton Cowser to his office following a July 4 game and told the outfielder to pack his bags. He was joining the Orioles in New York. The wait was over.
Cowser’s time in the majors met the same fate on Aug. 14, with the Orioles optioning him to create roster space after Aaron Hicks' reinstatement from the injured list. Cowser had seven hits in 61 at-bats, with three coming in his first five games.
“It’s not always a terrible thing to have a guy come up here and experience what big league pitching is like and what major league life is like and understand how to go through adjustments,” manager Brandon Hyde said while explaining the decision. “We saw Grayson (Rodriguez) do that earlier this year and he came back a different guy.”
Cowser came back on Sept. 1 but lasted only two days on the expanded roster and didn’t play. Hicks returned from a second stint on the IL. Cowser had to leave again.
He wasn’t on the playoff roster. He wasn’t on the taxi squad. But it wasn’t a total loss.
It worked out fine for Norfolk, which rode Cowser’s grand slam, a 455-foot shot that cleared the batter’s eye in center field, to a 7-6 win over Oklahoma City in the Triple-A championship game. Cowser was named Most Valuable Player.
MLB Pipeline ranks Cowser as the No. 14 prospect in baseball, 10 spots ahead of Heston Kjerstad. He batted .300/.417/.520 with 18 doubles, a triple, 17 home runs and 62 RBIs in 87 games with the Tides. And he’s only 23.
The stumble in the majors should have been anticipated. It’s a big jump and even the best prospects fail to stick the landing.
Cowser went 3-for-30, all singles, in his first seven games with Norfolk. Whatever. He’s going to hit. He did hit. And scouts who questioned whether he could play center field updated their reports.
The outfield picture in Baltimore is fuzzy with Cowser, Kjerstad, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers on the 40-man roster. Hicks will exit it after the World Series and become a free agent. Cowser finally is safe from him.
Stowers broke camp with the Orioles last spring, barely played before they optioned him April 9, injured his shoulder and fractured his nose on a hit by pitch in the minors, and went 2-for-30 with 12 strikeouts in 14 games at the major league level. He didn’t play for the Orioles after May 14 but had a .364 on-base percentage and .511 slugging percentage in 68 games with Norfolk.
Making the Opening Day roster again in 2024 could be more of a challenge for Stowers based on the assorted setbacks this year and how Cowser and Kjerstad passed him. Kjerstad should be a lock barring a total collapse or injury next spring. The Orioles put him on their playoff roster and got him to the on-deck circle a couple of times. And their opinion of Cowser rightfully is unchanged.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias wasn’t ready for a deep roster dive two days after elimination from the Division Series. But asked whether Cowser and Kjerstad could make the team out of spring training, he said, “Yeah, yeah.”
Impossible for Elias to confirm in October and also pointless for him to shoot down the idea.
Cowser, Kjerstad and Stowers bat from the left side. Mullins makes four, and Santander does it against right-handed pitching.
The industry speculation is that the Orioles will trade an outfielder to thin the crowd, with the most interest in Santander and Hays among the veteran crew. But only if the right offer comes along, of course.
Cowser had trouble reaching base but still appears to be untouchable. And a little known fact about him: He scored a run in his first eight career games, the longest streak in Orioles history, and the first player to do it since the Marlins' Kevin Millar in 1998-99.
Today’s question(s): Does Cowser make the Opening Day roster, and which outfielders also head north?