We are fast approaching the one year anniversary of Adley Rutschman’s promotion to the major leagues. If you need an example of just how impactful that call up has been, look no further than MLB.com’s weekly power rankings. In the power rankings immediately preceding Adley’s arrival, the Orioles ranked 26th. In the power rankings published yesterday, the O’s sit atop a lofty perch in the No. 3 spot. To say that Adley’s promotion to Baltimore revolutionized the team is perhaps an understatement.
However, despite how high the Orioles have soared—both in their on-field product and in the perception of the national media—there’s still certainly room for improvement. We’ve already seen the front office utilize the farm system to make moves around the margins of the roster. After making the Opening Day roster, Kyle Stowers has yo-yo’d between Baltimore and Norfolk as Mike Elis and Brandon Hyde see fit.
Ryan O’Hearn and Joey Ortiz have each had their cups of coffee at the big league level, each putting up largely favorable results. Terrin Vavra was seemingly pushed off the fringes of the roster by the solid play of Adam Frazier, but he remains in Norfolk as a viable option with big league experience.
The constant swapping of Stowers, Vavra, O’Hearn and Ortiz is the hardly the type of move that will move the needle in Baltimore in the same way Adley affected the franchise last season. The front office’s use of their minor league depth this season is reminiscent of skipping rocks on the service of a lake—whereas Adley was akin to a meteor rocketing into Baltimore harbor.
It’s true, the Orioles aren’t in as dire need of a big shake up from the minors as they were in the past. That being said, this roster still doesn’t feel like the final product that can undoubtedly guide these Birds back to the postseason. That’s where Colton Cowser comes in.
This season, the No. 5 pick from the 2021 draft has continued the meteoric rise that saw him go from Aberdeen to Norfolk in the span of 144 days. In a Tides lineup full of stars, Cowser has often shone the brightest. The outfielder’s .448 on-base percentage is fourth in the entire International League and he leads the league in runs scored. Cowser has also continually gotten better over the start of the season. After hitting .295 with a .932 OPS over the first month of the season, Coswer has been even better in May. In the Tides biggest series of the season against the Durham Bulls, Cowser hit .353 with two extra-base hits, four RBIs and a 1.088 OPS.
Colton Cowser is a no-doubt Top-15 #FantasyBaseball prospect. I aggressively ranked him there pre-season (and Top-10 for OBP) and he's showing why right now.— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) May 3, 2023
Last 10 Days: 42 PA, .414/.595/.966, 4 2B, 4 HR, 2 SB, 23.8% BB, 19% K#Birdland pic.twitter.com/sTwfaAUkxY
There’s little question that Cowser is ready to make the jump to major league competition. There’s an argument that Cowser is even ahead of where Adley was at the time of his call-up last season. In the 20 minor league games prior to his call up, Adiey slashed .304/.417/.507 while splitting time between Aberdeen, Bowie and Norfolk. In 30 games this year, all at Triple-A, Cowser is slashing .304/.448/.509.
There’s also little question that the O’s could use the boost that Cowser can provide. Orioles corner outfielders this season have combined for a -0.5 Wins Above Average this season— putting Baltimore squarely in the bottom half of the league for corner outfield production.
The players manning the corners are also suffering from glaring hot and cold streaks in the early parts of the season. In his first 17 games this year, Austin Hays hit an impressive .344 with 10 extra-base hits. In the 12 games since, Hays’ numbers have dipped to a .205 average with only two hits going for extra bases.
Anthony Santander has shown the opposite trend. Sitting right on the Mendoza line after the first 17 games, Tony Taters has found his home-run-hitting form of late. Over the last 16 games, Santander has four home runs and 14 RBIs to go along with a .328 average. Part time corner outfielders Vavra, Stowers and O’Hearn have combined to go 9-42 (.214) when starting in the outfield.
While Ryan McKenna has impressed with .306 and .822 OPS, the vast majority of his success has come against lefties. Nine of McKenna’s 11 hits this season have come off southpaws and the third-year outfielder is hitting only .200 against righties. The left-handed-hitting Cowser has leaned heavily toward traditional splits in minor league career—meaning he and McKenna wouldn’t necessarily be competing for playing time. A roster with both McKenna and Cowser would see McKenna hit against lefties and Cowser take all the matchups vs. righties.
The biggest obstacle to Cowser’s arrival in the big leagues seems to be the Orioles’ odd current approach to roster construction. It’s hard to look at the Orioles 26-man roster and not fixate on the third catcher elephant in the room. The decision to acquire Luis Torrens and keep him on the roster at expense of a player like O’Hearn leaves even less room for a debutante like Cowser. Torrens has no minor league options left on his contract, meaning if the Orioles eventually want to option him to Norfolk they would need to risk losing him on waivers.
When the alternative to someone as special as Cowser is a career .227 hitter like Torrens, that risk is unequivocally worth it. The Orioles’ offense has been a success through the first quarter of the season, but there’s clear room for improvement if Baltimore wants to remain among the contenders in the American League. Cowser can be the type of difference maker that pushes this O’s lineup up another tier—the same way Adley did last year. He’s going out and proving that every night in Triple-A.
Cowser also represents that first in what is surely going to be a recurring conundrum for Mike Elias & Co. One of the players they’ve drafted and developed is clearly ready to make a difference at the major leagues—the only problem is that there’s no clear space on the roster for him. While this will undoubtedly result in the trading of prospects down the line, that pattern should not start with Cowser.
The Orioles are already showing they have the main ingredients needed to make 2023 a special season. Cowser can be the perfect amount of Old Bay on a perfectly cooked crab cake; that is, the one ingredient that takes an otherwise excellent thing over the top. With the first anniversary of Adley Day fast approaching, hopefully this Orioles front office once again chooses to be bold by giving Cowser his shot sooner rather than later.
When will Colton Cowser be called up?
This poll is closed
Before Adley Day (May 21st)
After Adley Day but before the All-Star break
After the All-Star break but before September
He won’t be called up this season