Orioles prospect Colton Cowser ‘had never failed’ before 2022. Learning from it has him eyeing a big 2023. – Boston Herald
In Sid Holland’s eyes, Colton Cowser has certainly grown but hasn’t changed much in their 15 years together as coach and player. Cowser is still the same high-energy, goofy character he was as a boy, the type to sprint around Holland’s Houston-area training facility and nearly run into another player as they swung.
But there was one significant way Cowser, the Orioles’ No. 4 prospect, came into this offseason a different player.
“Colton, from the time he was 7 years old,” Holland said, “had never failed.”
That changed in 2022, Cowser’s first full professional season after the Orioles drafted him fifth overall the year before. But it still ended in Triple-A, the 22-year-old’s third affiliate of the year to position him for a major league debut in 2023.
A left-handed-hitting outfielder known for his bat-to-ball skills and whole-field approach at Sam Houston, Cowser is among the young players on the Orioles’ spring training roster who manager Brandon Hyde said will get frequent playing time early as games begin Saturday at Ed Smith Stadium. He’ll look to show off the adjustments he made in his offseason work with Holland, a longtime hitting coach who has worked with major leaguers, to fix an uncharacteristic spike in strikeouts and swings and misses.
“He’s been a guy that doesn’t strike out a lot,” Holland said. “It was just more of a mental thing for him and knowing that it’s going to happen. He likes to be really particular about his swing, about his moves, so it was more just trying to get him to understand, ‘Hey, you’re gonna make some mistakes. You can’t fix every swing.’
“He’s one of those guys who wants to feel like he’s always locked in. Just let him know sometimes it’s not gonna happen. You’re gonna have to go out there and battle with not being at your best.”
Cowser largely managed to do that. Despite his season’s roller-coaster nature — a strikeout-heavy showing in High-A Aberdeen, explosiveness at Double-A Bowie and a drastic dip before a strong finish with Triple-A Norfolk — Cowser ranked second among Orioles minor leaguers with 36 doubles and tied for third with 19 home runs while posting an impressive batting line of .278/.406/.469.
Despite the inconsistencies, Cowser avoided going “down the rabbit hole” to discover the root cause, believing in tweaks more than a midseason overhaul. But when the offseason presented the chance to evaluate video of his performance, he found that some of his issues stemmed from a collapse of his back side as he loaded to swing, with his hips sliding forward and “causing me to get kind of uphill and come out of my swing.” He worked with Holland to create a tall, strong back side.
“Once I realized what it was, I could identify it and understand the feeling of what was causing it,” Cowser said. “It’s just when I’m loading, try to treat it like I’m a tree, I guess you could say, and make my forward move off that.”
Cowser and Holland’s training included a focus on improved performance against left-handed pitching. They also worked in some of the game-like preparation that has become typical of the Orioles’ hitter development program, having Cowser face a pitching machine and hard-thrown batting practice from closer distances. He struggled adjusting to that approach early in 2022, but a blend of the Orioles’ methods and his own helped Cowser rediscover himself with Bowie.
“Try to get him to where it was tough that hopefully the game would be easier,” Holland said. “We just kind of challenged him more.”
He began last season in High-A Aberdeen and, like most other Orioles prospects who went there, atypically struggled. The summer after he was drafted, Cowser walked more than he struck out between the Florida Complex League and Low-A Delmarva, but his strikeout rate from that stint nearly doubled with the IronBirds.
A promotion to Bowie ignited Cowser’s bat. Although he continued striking out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances, Cowser hit .341/.469/.568 — good for a 1.037 OPS — with 10 home runs, six more than his Aberdeen total in 53 fewer at-bats.
“For Colton, it was he got out of Aberdeen,” said infielder Connor Norby, the Orioles’ second-round pick behind Cowser and his teammate for much of last season. “It’s not really hitters-friendly, per se, but he got out and he didn’t really tweak too much. I think that was kind of a breath of fresh air for him, and he took it and ran with it.”
That performance allowed him to end the year in Triple-A, but his strikeout rate spiked. In his first 10 games with Norfolk, Cowser struck out 22 times in 47 trips to the plate. But he ended the year hitting .299/.390/.582 in his final 17 games, carrying momentum into the offseason.
“The last couple weeks were really important,” Cowser said. “I got off to kind of a shaky start, but I think that was more or less just kind of a confidence thing at the start of getting up there and not playing very well. I kind of started pressing, but once I got settled in, it was the same. Just different level, different league, but I think it was good to finish strong and get a lot of confidence going into this year.”
He added weight this winter, as well, improving his strength without hampering his range and speed. It’s a package that still has the Orioles believing he can be a center fielder in the long run, with Hyde saying he’ll use Cowser at all three outfield spots during his time in big league camp.
“I like him a lot,” Hyde said. “He’s a big outfielder that can really move, and I like the way he can control the strike zone. I think he’s going to kind of grow into his power a little bit, but he’s kind of a hit-first guy, which I like.
“He’s gonna get a nice look this spring training.”
It might not be long before that look continues at Camden Yards. With a strong start back at Norfolk, Cowser will position himself for a midseason call-up, though he could have the challenge of breaking into a crowded Orioles outfield.
Holland believes in Cowser’s ability to do that.
“I think he’s just gonna pick up where he left off,” Holland said. “I think last year was a really good year over three stops. To do what he did and still have the amount of punchouts that he had in the season, I just think that he’s going to take off from here.”
Spring training opener
Twins at Orioles
At Sarasota, Florida
Saturday, 1:05 p.m.
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