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How Colton Cowser Became Surprise Top-Five Picks in the MLB Draft

Jay Sirianni, the top baseball coach at Sam Houston State University, lists many of the usual applause when asked about the Baltimore Orioles to perform his star outfielder, Colton Cowser, fifth overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft on Sunday.

Cowser checked every box, the coach said: polished hitters, outstanding speed, excellent work ethic, and the quiet confidence not to be overwhelmed by the soaring expectations that come with the millions of dollars he was about to make. Cowser was projected as a top-fifteen pick, so his fifth overall finish is not a complete shock. But few, if any, draft experts expect him to be selected in the top five. Instead, Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas shortstop Jordan Lawlar was widely projected to be the first Texan to take. He went sixth overall, in the Arizona Diamondbacks, one place behind Cowser.

Economy – what MLB people call “meaning, ”Or how teams likely believe a prospect is to agree to a contract before the August 1 deadline — probably played a role in Cowser’s selection, but as Orioles general manager Mike Elias you say, “The Cowser a guy we were very, very high about.” The executive added: “Whatever we end up signing him for, we’ll sign him for. And obviously from the club side, you want to preserve as much capital for the rest of the draft as possible, but you take the guy you want to take, and that’s what we did here. “

Sirianni’s phone rang non-stop Monday morning, but when we finally connected, I wondered what she will remember about Cowser, who played at Cypress Ranch High School in the Houston suburbs. “This kid just never had a bad day,” the coach said. “That came from her parents and the way she was raised. She stuck her head in my office every day just to say hello. She would say something sarcastic or funny, or tell me something one of her jumpy roommates did or something happens in one of its classes.

“Occasionally — and this tells you what kind of person he is — he would say, ‘Hey, so-and-so is not a good day. Maybe you can talk to him. His consciousness of his teammates, his consciousness in his roommate, and just kind of how we’re all doing will always mean a lot to me. ”

Sirianni would sometimes find Cowser in the recruitment coordinator’s office looking on the list of potential future Bearcats. “He would say, ‘Hey, I love this guy,'” Sirianni said, “or, ‘This one is going to be a player.’ He’s invested in every part of the program. ”Sam Houston was Cowser’s only Division I scholarship offer from Cy Ranch, a limit that turned out to be a huge boost for his career, because it means Cowser would be in the lineup starting from one day.

“I really think [going to Sam Houston] helped me back into the ballplayer I was and I, “Cowser said the athleticist. “But I don’t think I would really have had this opportunity if I would hold out and maybe wait for a bigger school to come along and lose this opportunity to go to Sam. It was a big decision.”

He beat .361 as a ninth grader and was named Southland Conference Drummer of the Year. Cowser jumped on the MLB radar in mid-2019, when he was called up to Team USA. “You could see what he was going to do,” said Corey Cephus, Cowser’s coach at Cy Ranch. “I remember telling his senior year scouts,‘ You’re going to pay him a little bit now, or you’re going to pay him a lot in a few years. ’They chose to do the latter.

“He stole thirty bases his last year, so this was still part of his game. He was able to hit doubles in his sleep. Now he turned on the ball and knocked them out in the right field. He just always improves. This is one thing we love about him, as a coach. He wants to get better, and these are the kids you love to coach. “

Colton Cowser MLB draft pick
Colton Cowser at a draft party on July 11, 2021.Courtesy Sam Athletic

Cowser’s steady improvement is one of his qualities that stands out the most. Once he made Team USA, he climbed steadily up 2021 draft boards, taking a final leap this season when he added power-ten home runs on one thirteen-game stretch—In his offensive skills. “I think everyone who saw him, even in high school, thought the power was going to come at some point,” Sirianni said. “I think he goes back to his pitch selection and understands what he hits hard with the type of thing. Offensively, he’s above his age. He has a feel for the strike zone. He understands how to make contact on pitch. hard and not chasing those bad ones. Defensively, I wouldn’t say he’s the fastest guy in the draft or anything like that. But he gets really good jumps in the field. “

The coach was particularly impressed with the way Cowser managed the growing attention that came with the performance of the stars and his actions riding MLB Draft. “He just went about his business around here and tried to be one of the guys,” Sirianni said. “You would never know he was a prospect if you saw him at our club. He was one of the guys… He could laugh at himself. You know, after a bad in bat or something. , he would come to the dugout and go, ‘That wasn’t very good.’ He just never makes it bigger than he was, and that’s a quality win. He loves being on the field. being around his teammates. He loves the job. “

If his game lacks flash, he has most of the coveted Major League franchise qualities in 2021. He is patient at the plate and grinds out long at bats, obsessed over improved ways, and prides himself on his defense and baserunning as much as his offense. Michael Brantley of the Astros and Christian Yelich of the Brewers — MLB stars noted for their low-key, workmanlike approach — are two of his favorite players. “I really believe he doesn’t like the attention,” Sirianni said. “He actually kind of gets embarrassed by it. I think he’s going to tune out other things. He’s been under a microscope since he was with Team USA.”

Cowser hit .354 at 125 career games of Sam Houston, including .374 this season (with an eye-popping .490 on-base average). After hitting eight home runs in 70 games in his first two seasons, the 21-year-old led the Southland Conference and sixteen in 55 games this season as a junior. Cowser watched the draft from a bar near his Cypress home with his former high school teammate, Texas Longhorns right-hander Ty Madden, whom Detroit picks and picks at thirty-second.

“It’s a dream come true,” Cowser said Sunday in a call with reporters. “I dreamed about this, and my family invested so much in me. You know they were sacrificed all the time. Just to be able to spend it with friends and family means the world to me.”

The MLB suggests signing bonuses for the fifth pick is $ 6.18 million. The Orioles may have negotiated a lower figure with Cowser before the draft to allow them to spend more on later draft picks. But Elias, a former Astros executive who moved on to lead Baltimore in a full-blown franchise reconstruction, emphasizes that the Orioles believe they are getting a special player. “Colton has been and is one of the best pure hitters in the country since setting foot on the campus of Sam Houston,” Elias said during a Sunday press conference. “He’s an elite contact hitter, he uses the whole field, and… He runs and throws and plays center field – and he plays it well – and he just really can do it all.”

Elias said his first memory of Cowser came from high school reports labeling the left hitter as “young and thin and not really a pro guy.” But one thing Cowser could do was hit, and as he added weight and muscle to his six-foot-three frame, MLB teams began to see a potential impact player.

“He just started rakes,” Elias said. “I mean, this guy rakes, and it was a name that you heard right away as a ninth grader who was going to be an elite player in the country. And he did that. And, you know, he got to that point and a lot of hard work, and he has a lot of projections in front of him still. This is not a totally finished product. “

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