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Orioles prospect season in review: Colton Cowser

The 2021 first round pick impressed as he moved up the ladder in his first pro season.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Baltimore Orioles
Colton Cowser doesn’t have an Orioles pic. That’ll change next spring. Until then, here is The Bird.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When Mike Elias selected Colton Cowser with the 5th overall pick in the 2021 draft, many Orioles fans were not happy. Elias had gone under slot with the first-round pick for the second year in a row. By signing Cowser at $1.3M under slot, they were able to go over slot on several other players like Creed Willems and John Rhodes.

It’s up to a future post on Camden Chat to determine if this strategy worked out for the Orioles in the long run, but as far as 2022 goes, Cowser impressed in his first full season.

The word out of the Elias camp on Cowser, drafted as a 21-year-old outfielder who bats left and throws right out of Sam Houston State, was that they loved what a pure hitter he had proven himself to be during his college career. He played primarily center field in the minors this year and there is no reason to think he’ll need to be shifted to a corner for defensive reasons.

Cowser started his first full season with the Orioles with the High-A Aberdeen IronBirds, where he played two very decent months of baseball before turning it up in June. Early in the year, he walked a ton, putting up a .390 OBP through the first few months. But he didn’t have good power numbers, hitting just two homers and 10 doubles through the first two months.

When the calendar switched to June, however, he got locked in. In 20 games with the IronBirds in June, he matched his number of homers from the first two months and hit double the doubles. And on June 27th, Cowser got his first of two promotions for the season. He had heated up in Aberdeen, but it was with the Bowie Baysox where he really caught fire.

In Bowie, Cowser was an absolute stud, hitting as well as anyone could hope. He hit for a high average, .341. He walked a lot and got on base at a .469 clip. And the power that had started to come around at the end of his time in Aberdeen continued to bloom. In just 49 games with the IronBirds, he slugged 10 home runs and 10 doubles.

A fun fact pointed out by Steve Melewski last month is that Cowser and rookie sensation Gunnar Henderson played nearly the same number of games for Bowie in 2022. In 47 games, Henderson hit .302/.440/.547 with eight HR. Cowser hit .341/.469/.568 with 10 HR in 49 games. That’s fun! Of course, Henderson is more than a year younger. But it’s still very good hitting for Cowser.

Such good hitting, in fact, that for the final month of the 2022 season, Cowser was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

After going hitless in his first two games with the Tides, Cowser launched the first of five Triple-A home runs on September 1st. That kicked off a final month of the season in which he OPS’d .828. Facing the tougher competition at Triple-A, his batting average dropped to .240 for the month, but thanks to a good batting eye his OBP remained a respectable .360.

One thing to keep an eye on in Cowser’s offensive game are his platoon splits. He pretty much bashed right-handed pitching while going very cold against lefties. It was a much smaller sample size, just 158 PA against lefties compared to 465 against righties, but it’s a stark difference. Against lefties, Cowser couldn’t crack the Mendoza line for batting average and had just two of his 19 home runs.

Another glaring stat is the fact that Cowser struck out in over 27% of his plate appearances in 2022. Even in his red-hot Double-A phase he was still striking out over 25% of the time. That is a lot.

Cowser’s 2022 campaign saw him play at three levels and hit 19 home runs, all while playing above-average defense at the premium position of center field. Most of the big prospect lists all rank him in their top 100 (FanGraphs - 44, MLB Pipeline - 40, Baseball America - 97). Keith Law ranked him at 52 pre-season but dropped him off of his top 60 in the August update due to his hitting in Aberdeen.

After spending just about a month at Triple-A in 2022, that is where Colton Cowser will begin his 2023 season. He will still be young for the league and it will be interesting to see how he can do over a longer stretch against tougher competition. It would behoove him to lower his Triple-A K% (30%) and raise his walk rate (10%). If he can approach what he was doing with Bowie it would be incredible, but Double-A to Triple-A is a big jump.

MLB Pipeline estimates his major league debut to be in 2023, which would be very exciting. But there is the possibility that Cowser will be traded as the Orioles move into the next stage of their rebuild. As soon as this off-season, Elias could begin trading prospects to fill major league holes, and Cowser could find himself shuffling teams. It’s an idea that both excites and terrifies me. Either way, here’s hoping Cowser continues on his successful path.

Previously: Fallen prospect roundup, Jean Pinto, Darell Hernaiz, Drew Rom, international prospect roundup, César Prieto, Mike Baumann, Hudson Haskin, John Rhodes and Reed Trimble, Cade Povich and Chayce McDermott, Joey Ortiz, Terrin Vavra, injured pitcher roundup, Coby Mayo, Kyle Stowers, Heston Kjerstad, Jordan Westburg, 2022 draftee roundup, Connor Norby, DL Hall

Tomorrow: Grayson Rodriguez