Kubitza, Cowart focusing on versatility in camp

February 25th, 2016

TEMPE, Ariz. -- For the better part of the last two weeks, Kaleb Cowart and Kyle Kubitza could be spotted in the back fields of the Angels' Spring Training complex, working with new director of baseball development Mike Gallego on a new position and a new path.

The Angels acquired converted shortstop Yunel Escobar over the offseason and remain committed to keeping him at third base. That makes Cowart and Kubitza -- the two third-base prospects who were expected to take over full time at different points in their development -- second basemen in training.

"It's a long way to being a Major League second baseman," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "but they keep looking good."

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Cowart and Kubitza aren't expected to challenge Johnny Giavotella -- or, for that matter, Rey Navarro and Gregorio Petit -- for playing time at second base this spring. The hope, though, is that they can show a little more versatility so that the Angels could get some use out of them. It's why they're also taking fly balls in left field, and why they may eventually try to play a little first base.

"I'm just trying to find a way where I can fit onto the team," Kubitza said.

"If you have a good spring, everybody's in line to get a job," Cowart added. "It's just about getting out here and performing."

Kubitza was acquired from the Braves in January 2015, for a premier pitching prospect in Ricardo Sanchez, because the Angels needed a third baseman in 2016 and Cowart was struggling to find his way.

But Kubitza didn't necessarily impress. He batted a respectable .271/.357/.433 in 117 Triple-A games, but just .194/.256/.194 in 19 Major League games. He then played winter ball in the Dominican Republic for the first time and batted .226/.377/.403 in 24 games for the Licey Tigers.

"For the goals I set for myself, I felt like I underachieved," Kubitza said. "But if you take a step back and look at it, I think it was a good year."

From about age 5 until about age 15, Kubitza was a middle infielder. Then he hit a growth spurt, played mostly first base throughout high school and transitioned to third base full time at Texas State University. Now 25, the 6-foot-3 left-handed hitter is learning second base all over again.

So, too, is Cowart, who hasn't really played the position since his freshman year of high school -- about eight years ago.

"It feels pretty natural out there," Cowart said. "Everything feels good."

Cowart is at a much better place now, of course. The former first-round Draft pick was initially supposed to take over third base on a full-time basis by 2015. But that was before back-to-back nightmare seasons in Double-A Arkansas from 2013-14. Last year, Cowart adjusted the point at which he started his hands and the timing of his foot in Class A Advanced Inland Empire and erupted after a promotion to Triple-A.

He batted .323/.395/.491 in the Pacific Coast League, but just .174/.255/.283 over a stretch of 52 plate appearances in the Major Leagues. Cowart suggested that his nerves might have gotten the best of him with the Angels. He was asked if he's worried that he might have lost whatever it is that he found with his swing.

"No," he said, "because I'm that confident that I have it."