Even though the Orioles had several scouts see Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser play in person several times, when they brought him to their home park at Camden Yards for a pre-draft workout, the kid made one strong final impression on club officials that may have cemented he would be their pick at No. 5 in round one.
It was on a steamy afternoon on Thursday, July 8 - just three days before the beginning of the First-Year Player Draft - that the O’s had Cowser work out and hit on their home field. He impressed them with his skills that day, for sure, as he had for a few years, but when they talked with him after the workout, the impression he made was very strong as well.
Not only were the data and analytics employed throughout the Orioles minor league affiliates very familiar to him, but the club found out that Cowser is a big believer in making good swing decisions. It’s a term that has come to the O’s farm and been very important with teams like Double-A Bowie, which is leading its league in walks and on-base percentage.
Thom Dreier is the area scout who made many trips from his home in Texas to watch Cowser play. That he lives just 30 miles from the Sam Houston campus was a plus. But Midwest area supervisor Jim Richardson also made the trek to see Cowser play in person in both the fall and during the spring college season.
He was also there for the Cowser workout in Baltimore and post-workout chat session.
“When we sat down after his workout at Camden Yards, he was talking about how he likes the technology,” said Richardson. “And what he likes to do most is go - even if a pitch is called a strike and he didn’t swing at it - he wanted to go after the game and see where that pitch actually was. It may have been called a strike, but if it was off the plate per TrackMan or whatever device was being used, then he was comfortable with not swinging at that pitch. Even if he might have been called out on strikes. He wanted to see what his decisions looked like, if they were actually stacking up with what he thought he saw.
“That is kind of what is being taught in the minor leagues right now to our guys at every level. So, when he is used to that to an extent, maybe not necessarily the in-depth our guys will go into it with them, but he understands the premise of better swing decisions, I just think that feeds right into where we’ve gone the last couple of years. And that was exciting too, for him to embrace that. I think at that point everybody kind of looked at each other like, ‘Here we go, that’s another piece of the puzzle.’ It was just exciting to hear him talk about that and envision him going out and not having to have a big adjustment period.”
The 2021 Southland Conference Player of the Year, Cowser played in 55 games this season, batting .374/.490/.680 with 10 doubles, two triples, 16 homers, 61 runs, 17 steals and 52 RBIs. He recorded an OPS of 1.170, walking more times than he struck out, 42-32. He batted .354/.460/.609/.1.067 for his career with 78 walks and 70 strikeouts.
An all-fields hitter, with a 60-grade run tool and 55 arm, with good power along with a low swing-and-miss and strikeout total.
“What attracted us to him right off the bat was his bat-to-ball skills,” said Richardson. “His hand-eye coordination and how frequently that he barreled balls up. And I’m not talking about barreling them up out of the ballpark all the time, just good, solid at-bats where he showed the ability to control the strike zone, know the strike zone and rarely expand. Rarely swinging at a pitch he couldn’t drive. He consistently showed those traits.
“And I still think he has room to grow with that as he gets stronger. Some of those line drives that he is hitting now are going to start to get out of the ballpark even more.
“Truly, I didn’t expect him to have 16 home runs by the end of the season. Because that just wasn’t his approach. He could hit the home run, but I always thought of it more middle-of the-diamond line drive, and he can really drive the ball to left-center. And he can really drive it to right-center. The way we look at that, when that is your power, in the biggest part of the field, you have a chance to have legitimate power. Not talking about 40 home runs a year and it might not be his biggest asset as a hitter, but he’ll still have the ability to hit some homers.”
A center fielder, Cowser has the ability to play all three outfield spots. Baseball America’s scouting report on him put a 50 grade on his fielding and a 55 grade on his arm.
“I thought he played center field really, really well. Plus speed. Think he can improve on his jumps and maybe even his routes. Which is exciting because he plays well in center field. You get a guy that plays center but also the two corner spots, I think you have a chance to have a really good defender. His ability to run balls down and to throw, it’s a solid, average-to-maybe-a-little-bit-above arm. He’s just got tools that will continue to grow as he gets out in the system and starts to play,” added Richardson.
He also noted that Cowser consistently produced some of the top exit velocities in the country this year. That Cowser played on the USA Baseball collegiate national team after his freshman year showed both that he belonged with the best players in the nation and that he could hit well against top pitching.
“As a staff, not one time did we see him get overmatched at the plate,” said Richardson, an O’s scout since 2005.
And the club had scouts interact enough with Cowser over several seasons to feel his makeup and character were very strong as well.
“He scores extremely well there,” Richardson said. “It just takes a little bit of time to see how he interacts with his teammates and how they respect him. Not a big rah-rah guy, you can tell he’s well-respected in the dugout, by his teammates and the coaches. And then when you start talking to other people about what kind of guy is he, you didn’t hear anything negative. And when you talk to him face-to-face, impressive. He’ll look you in the eye. Very well spoken and very smart.”
When the O’s had Cowser come to Baltimore for the pre-draft workout they already had amassed numerous scouting reports and data and analytics on the 21-year-old kid from Cypress, Texas. This final encounter was more about one last chance to talk with him and one last chance to make sure he did indeed check the boxes that needed to be checked to draft someone so highly.
“They put him in some situations and there were some minor league guys that hit at the same time, so he wouldn’t be the only one. And he interacted with those guys. You know, just like they were teammates. That was good to see too,” said Richardson.
“And then by the time that Sig (Mejdal, vice president and assistant general manager, analytics) and crew crunch the numbers and some of the best average exit velocities with one of the best, if not the best in the country, you start putting those angles to it and then you are going, ‘Oh man, he’s checking a lot of boxes here.’ He has size and still has room to fill out and get stronger. You look him in the eye and shake his hand and get to know him, and I think everyone was comfortable with the decision that was made Sunday night.”