O's pick outfielder Cowser No. 5 overall

July 12th, 2021

The Orioles selected Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser with the fifth overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft on Sunday, again going with a college bat at the top of the Draft to augment a farm system already ranked among the best in baseball.

A left-handed-hitting, 6-foot-3, 195-pound center fielder, Cowser hit .354 with 24 home runs and a 1.068 OPS over three seasons at Sam Houston, and he batted .374 with a conference-leading 16 home runs and a .680 slugging percentage as a junior in 2021. The reigning Southland Conference Player of the Year, Cowser was the No. 10 prospect heading into the Draft, according to MLB Pipeline.

“Colton has been one of the best pure hitters in the country since setting foot on campus,” Orioles general manager and executive vice president Mike Elias said. “He’s a five-tool player, and he’s somebody we project will impact our team and our lineup, both offensively and defensively. It’s rare to get those types of physical tools, and all five of them in a college performer like we just did. That’s why we took him, and it’s a very exciting start to our Draft.”

The selection was part of a collective shakeup at the top of the Draft. After the Pirates took Louisville catcher Henry Davis at No. 1, Vanderbilt righty Jack Leiter went to the Rangers at No. 2, with prep righty Jackson Jobe going to the Tigers at No. 3 and prep shortstop Marcelo Mayer to the Red Sox at No. 4. That left the Orioles with three of the top four ranked prep shortstops and highly touted Vanderbilt righty Kumar Rocker among those available at No. 5.

They opted for Cowser, the third polished college bat they’ve taken in the first round in three Drafts during the Elias era. Since taking the reins of the Orioles’ front office, 14 of Elias’ top 15 picks have been hitters, headlined by Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman first overall in 2019. Elias then swung an under-slot deal with Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad at No. 2 in 2020. The expectation is the club will employ a similar strategy with Cowser, in an attempt to maximize its $11,829,300 bonus pool. The No.5 pick is valued at $6,180,700.

“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,” Elias said. “But you take the guy that you want to take. And that's what we did here. This was our player at [No. 5]. And so that's the most important thing.”

Before emerging as a top Draft prospect in college, Cowser was part of an elite talent crop at Cypress Ranch High School in suburban Houston, alongside JJ Goss (36th overall pick in 2019, to Tampa Bay), Matthew Thompson (45th overall to White Sox, ‘19) and Ty Madden (32nd overall to the Tigers). At Sam Houston, Cowser became the only Bearkat to ever play on the U.S. national team, and on Sunday he eclipsed Glenn Wilson (No. 18 overall, 1980) as the highest pick in school history. Cowser, 21, is also the first Orioles first-round pick born in the 2000s.

“It's a dream come true,” Cowser said. “I've dreamed about this and my family has invested a lot into me. They've sacrificed a lot of time, and just to be able to spend tonight with friends and family meant the world to me.”

Elias made specific mention of Cowser’s bat-to-ball skills Sunday, calling him “an elite contact hitter” with the rare “hit for average tool and power without striking out.” The Orioles see that as vital amid the Majors’ modern high-strikeout landscape: Cowser struck out 32 times with 42 walks in 55 games as a junior this spring.

Defensively, Cowser is considered athletic enough to stick in center field, with enough arm strength to play either corner position if necessary. That combination led to him getting pre-Draft comparisons to Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo and Cleveland center fielder Bradley Zimmer.

“He was young and skinny and not really a pro guy coming out of high school, even though he was all-state as a hitter,” Elias said. "Then [he] went to college and filled out a little bit and just started raking. I mean, this guy rakes. It was a name that you heard right away as a freshman that was going to be an elite player in the country. And he's done that. He's gotten to this point with a lot of hard work, and he's got a lot of projection ahead of him. This isn't a totally finished product.”

Said Cowser: "I'm really excited. I think they develop players really well, and I definitely think their whole front office and scouting program is doing a really great job. I’m really excited they see me as a as a good piece for their organization.”