Cowser's walk-off HR caps exciting Grapefruit League opener

Rutschman homers, combines with fellow No. 1 Draft pick Holliday for impressive play

February 24th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- In ’s final game of the 2023 season, he helped power Norfolk to victory in the Triple-A National Championship game, belting a go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning of the Tides’ 7-6 win over Oklahoma City last Sept. 30.

In Cowser’s first game of 2024, he delivered another big swing. MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect swatted a walk-off two-run homer on Saturday afternoon, lifting the Orioles to a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox in their Grapefruit League opener at Ed Smith Stadium.

Some might say Cowser is on a bit of a hot streak.

“Yeah, if you want to count the, I guess, four months in between,” Cowser said with a laugh. “Yeah, feeling good, though.”

However, neither home run came on the type of stage where Cowser wants to be playing. He would like to be hitting clutch homers for the Orioles in regular-season big league action, and he has a chance to make that happen this year.

The 23-year-old is among six outfielders battling for either one or two open spots on Baltimore’s roster. Cowser feels he learned from his disappointing 26-game debut stint in MLB last season, and the 2021 first-round Draft pick is hoping to have a big spring, break camp with the O’s and make his first career Opening Day roster.

It could be important for Cowser to get off to a strong start. So far, so good.

“That’s not something I’m necessarily trying to press to do,” said Cowser, who reached via hit-by-pitch in his only plate appearance prior to the homer on Saturday. “I’m mainly just trying to trust my process at the plate and understand what I’m trying to do and really just try to hone a consistent approach right now to take into the year.”

The No. 1 pick connection
One of the most impressive plays of Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener featured a pair of former No. 1 overall Draft picks -- catcher (2019) and infielder (‘22).

In the third inning, Rutschman threw out Boston’s Bobby Dalbec trying to steal second base to end the frame. Holliday (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect) came over to cover the bag and made a nice tag on Dalbec for the out.

“He's professional in the way he goes about his business, he's a hard worker, has looked great so far in Spring Training,” Rutschman said of Holliday. “It was cool to have that first interaction."

The 20-year-old Holliday (who went 0-for-2) is a natural shortstop, but he’ll be getting a lot of time at second this spring as he tries to win a job with the Orioles coming out of camp.

Worth noting
• Rutschman wasted no time hitting his first homer of the spring. The 26-year-old belted a first-inning solo shot to straightaway center field in his first at-bat against right-hander Garrett Whitlock.

“It’s the best feeling,” Rutschman said. “It’s always tough to get the first one out of the way, and so, I’m glad it was first AB.”

• Right-hander threw three scoreless innings of relief. The 26-year-old (who was a fifth-round pick by the Angels in the 2019 MLB Draft) split last season between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk and is in big league camp with the O’s for the first time.

“We’re looking for rotation depth,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “And for him to go out there and give us three really good innings, filling the strike zone, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Enrique Bradfield Jr., the Orioles’ 2023 first-round Draft pick and their No. 7 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, came over from Minor League camp to serve as an extra outfielder. The 22-year-old went 0-for-1 and played four innings in center.