Cowser mashing his way into O's outfield mix

Plus: G-Rod's second spring start, infield prospect's debut

March 3rd, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- has raked during the first week-plus of the Grapefruit League slate, swatting a trio of left-on-left home runs in only seven games. The 26-year-old is making a strong early case to emerge victorious from the Orioles’ crowded outfield competition.

Don’t sleep on , though. MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect is mashing himself, and he’s capable of having left-on-left success, too.

Cowser showed that again by staying red hot on Sunday afternoon, when he belted his third home run of the spring -- a third-inning leadoff blast vs. Pittsburgh southpaw Martín Pérez in Baltimore’s 5-2 win at LECOM Park. Cowser is 4-for-11 with a 1.745 OPS through his first six games, having reached base in nine of 16 plate appearances.

Six players are tied for the Grapefruit League lead with three homers, and both Cowser and Stowers are among that group.

“To be honest, I love hitting home runs, but I’d rather not lead the Grapefruit League in home runs,” Cowser said. “I’d rather be able to do that during the regular season. But I’m really happy with where I’m at and will continue to build off that. And I know Stowers is as well.”

In three plate appearances against lefties this spring, Cowser has gone deep twice. He previously blasted a three-run homer off Minnesota southpaw Michael Boyle on Wednesday.

Cowser’s homer off Pérez was a no-doubter that cleared the Pirates’ bullpen in right field, traveling a Statcast-projected 372 feet.

“That was a great swing on a pitch down,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Both those guys [Cowser and Stowers] are swinging the bat with a ton of confidence, came into camp really playing hard. I just like how aggressive they both are right now.”

After a disappointing 26-game debut stint in the big leagues last year, Cowser (the No. 5 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft) is trying to break camp with Baltimore for the first time. But the competition is stiff, and the team could have tough decisions to make in three weeks.

Stowers is putting up big numbers (5-for-15 with a 1.308 OPS in seven games). Heston Kjerstad (the No. 32 overall prospect in baseball) is 3-for-18, but the 25-year-old showed his offensive potential last year, when he reached MLB for the first time.

The Orioles’ outfield battle also features Ryan McKenna, who has proven to be valuable because of his plus defense at all three spots in recent years. Non-roster invitee Daniel Johnson is having a strong spring as well, going 6-for-17 with four extra-base hits (including a homer) through nine games.

Only one or two of those outfielders will join the three starters (Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander) on Baltimore’s roster for Opening Day on March 28 vs. the Angels at Camden Yards.

“I don’t think we view it as competition. I want those guys to do as well as they can, because I think, at the end, it makes everybody else better as well,” Cowser said. “They’re off to great springs, and I think it’s going to continue to be a fun spring.”

G-Rod’s second spring start
allowed one run over two innings in his second outing of the spring. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed three hits (a trio of consecutive two-out singles in the first) and notched a pair of strikeouts in the second.

The velocities on Rodriguez’s fastballs were sitting around 94-96 mph, maxing out at 97.7 mph. Those numbers are down from what he typically averages, as he hit triple digits in his previous start. However, Sunday’s downtick was by design, as he wanted to work on his mechanics.

“Coming into today’s start, I was going to tone it down a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “The first start, really kind of wanted to see where I was at [with] velo numbers, knowing I could hit 100 [mph]. Today was more of a focus of just feeling rhythm and timing out of the windup.”

Worth noting
• Connor Norby (the Orioles’ No. 6 prospect) made his Grapefruit League debut after dealing with left side soreness early in camp. The 23-year-old second baseman doubled to left in his first at-bat in the eighth, then drew a walk in the ninth.

“I’ve been watching everyone else rake and I wanted to get in on the party,” Norby said.

• After playing shortstop in each of his first five spring appearances, Jorge Mateo started in center field and played five innings there, making several routine plays. The 28-year-old had only two starts in center last year, but he could have more of a super-utility role in 2024.

“I definitely have to continue getting a lot of repetitions, and if the time and place comes for me to be out there in that position, I have to be ready for it,” Mateo said via team interpreter Brandon Quinones.

• Minor League first baseman TT Bowens swatted a tie-breaking three-run homer to left field in the ninth inning.

“Great swing,” Hyde said. “It’s fun to watch those guys at the end of the game get an opportunity like that, and it’s fun to watch them come through.”