Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser said that when the Orioles invited him to Baltimore for a pre-draft workout, he knew they were serious about potentially making him the No. 5 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said late Sunday night in a Zoom interview. “I’ve dreamed about this and my family’s invested a lot into me. You know they’ve sacrificed all the time. Just to be able to spend it with friends and family means the world to me.”
For the third year in a row as Orioles executive vice president and general manager, Mike Elias has taken a top college hitter with his top draft pick. Following Adley Rutschman, who went No. 1 overall in 2019, and Heston Kjerstad, who was taken No. 2 last year, the O’s selected Cowser at No. 5 on Sunday night.
Cowser, 21, a native of Cypress, Texas, was named the Southland Conference Player of the Year for the 2021 season.
He was ranked as the No. 7 draft prospect by FanGraphs.com, No. 10 by both ESPN and MLB.com, and No. 11 by Baseball America.
The next time Elias calls him, he figures to grab that call quickly, but last night Cowser initially missed a call from the O’s executive.
“I actually got a phone call and I didn’t have the number. I was told to not answer if I didn’t have the number. It ended up being him and I gave him a call right back. Ended up being a miscommunication there,” Cowser said.
Over 55 games this past season for the Bearkats, he hit .374/.490/.680 with 10 doubles, two triples, 16 homers, 17 steals, 61 runs and 52 RBIs. He recorded an OPS of 1.170 and drew more walks (42) than he had strikeouts (32).
For a three-year career, Cowser batted .354/.460/.608 with more walks than strikeouts (78 to 70) and an OPS of 1.067.
“I’d definitely say my hit tool,” he said when asked which is his best skill. “I definitely think that is my most polished and mature tool. Not too far behind, I would say, is my power and speed.”
Cowser said he was looking forward to joining the Orioles, but wasn’t sure if he would sign quickly.
“I don’t have a sense of it right now,” he said. “Still just trying to comprehend that it happened kind of quick right now.
“They develop players really well and I think the whole front office and the scouting department is doing a great job. Really excited that they see me as a good piece for their organization.”
He watched the draft from a bar near Cypress, Texas. home. He was with his former high school teammate, pitcher Ty Madden of the University of Texas, who went No. 32 overall to Detroit.
Cowser is the third player the Orioles have selected from Sam Houston State since 2018, joining catcher Jordan Cannon (2019) and infielder Drew Fregia (2018). Cowser said Cannon had already texted him and they had lunch when he came to Baltimore.
“I’m not going to lie. It probably won’t hit for me for a couple days. I’m not surprised,” Cowser said. “I’m not saying that arrogantly, but the way the MLB draft plays out, you never know what is going to happen.”
Why not a pitcher first?: Two of the top-rated pitchers were off the board when the Orioles’ time to select No. 5 arrived last night. The Texas Rangers, picking second, selected Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter. With the next pick, Detroit took high school right-hander Jackson Jobe third.
But Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker, once considered the top prospect for this draft, was still out there. He went 14-4 with a 2.73 ERA this season and had been the college Freshman of the Year in 2019 and College World Series Most Outstanding Player that season.
But the Orioles, who rank last in the majors in team ERA and rotation ERA, did not add Rocker, opting instead to draft Cowser at five.
“All these guys are tempting,” Elias said during a Zoom call. “There are really good players. It’s a huge decision at the top of the draft. It’s very tough. You know that there are going to be several impact All-Star big leaguers coming out of the pool of guys that you are selecting. And you are trying to do something to give yourself the best odds to get one of those. I wish we could have taken seven guys this year.
“We don’t draft for need. The baseball draft is very challenging. We try to just make a good pick. That is what our goal is. We want hopefully an impact player and the draft is fraught with a lot of risk. And so we are trying to get value out of these picks as much as possible.
“You know, it is a factor to us that one of the relative strengths on our big league roster right now is in the outfield. But you look at our farm system and we have a lot of good pitchers, we have a lot of good infielders. We have a catcher in the farm system that we are excited about. Again, it’s hard to worry too much about the composition of your current personnel when you are trying to make a pick.
“With Colton Cowser, with him being a middle-of-the-diamond player, he’s going to be able to play all three outfield spots and his bat is going to profile at all three outfield spots. So when he joins this team, hopefully in the next couple of years if all goes well, we’re going to have some options there.”
The Orioles potentially could sign Cowser for under the slot amount of $6,180,700 for the No. 5 pick and maybe use the savings later today when they select No. 41 overall or maybe at No. 65 with their third pick.
On the MLB Network telecast last night, Jim Callis of MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com provided his thoughts on the O’s selection of Cowser.
“I really do like Cowser,” Callis said. “Thought he was one of the best hitters in college baseball and he got better this year. The questions for him coming into the year were: Was he going to have power? He led the Southland Conference in home runs with 16. Is he going to be able to stick in center field? He got quicker and he has good instincts. He is definitely a center fielder.
“So I think this is a guy who is going to hit for average, hit for power, play up the middle. They probably saved a little money here, so then you can get some high-priced in the second or third rounds. I like the strategy. They saved some money, but they did not compromise on talent.”
Colton gets the call. pic.twitter.com/JKfSMeiXht-- Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 11, 2021
When the dream comes to life. pic.twitter.com/WMEsNW781c-- Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 12, 2021