Cowser's up-and-down '23 fueling drive for breakout

February 22nd, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- experienced his share of highs and lows last summer. This spring, he’s trying to learn lessons from both as he tries to make the Orioles’ season-opening roster.

Baltimore’s No. 2 prospect and the No. 19 overall prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, Cowser made his Major League debut last July 5. Less than six weeks later, he was back in the Minors, trying to figure out what went wrong.

“After I got optioned, it was like, ‘Why was I trying to do too much up there?’” Cowser said. “When I got down [to Triple-A], I was playing free and easy. I learned that I need to just take the same way I was playing, go back up there and play the same way.”

Cowser is attempting to do that this spring, hoping to use last summer’s disappointment as a springboard to bigger and better things. Although Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays are locked in as the Orioles’ starting outfield, Cowser is competing to be the fourth outfielder, a role clubs often use to rotate their starters through the designated hitter spot.

“It's a learning experience; it's more normal than not to have a young player come up and go through some adversity early,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I think he's going to be better for it. It was motivating for him this offseason. I like the adjustments he's made. He's going to get a lot of opportunity this camp to show what he can do.”

Cowser hit just .115 (7-for-61) with no home runs, four RBIs, a .434 OPS and 22 strikeouts in his 26-game stint with the Orioles last summer, a far cry from his numbers at Triple-A, where he hit .300 with 17 homers, 62 RBIs and a .937 OPS in 87 games.

“If I would have gone up there and played really well, that would have been sweet, but I think having a little bit of that failure is good,” Cowser said. “It’s happened to guys on this team, and you see where they're at now and they’re in a really good spot. It’s only really a failure if you don't learn from it, so my goal is just to build off of that.”

Two of the players Cowser was referring to are Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, who have quickly blossomed into two of Baltimore’s best players.

Rutschman hit .176 with no homers or RBIs and a .513 OPS in his first 20 games after making his debut in May 2022, while Henderson opened 2023 -- his first full season -- with a .192 average, four homers and eight RBIs in his first 42 games.

“When you get to the big leagues, you want to have immediate success, but more times than not, that's not the case,” Henderson said. “The biggest thing is just going up there and telling yourself, ‘Just go out there and play your game.’”

Cowser had hits in three of his first five games last July, but after returning from the All-Star break, the 23-year-old opened the second half with an 0-for-11 skid over four games. He went 4-for-45 in 21 games after the break before getting sent down, getting his first true taste of failure as a professional player.

“Being on a team that's competing for the pennant, you know if you go 0-for-4 one day, you're probably not going to play the next day,” Cowser said. “If you're in the Minors and you go 0-for-4, you know you're going to play the next day. Adjusting to things like that is something that I definitely learned and experienced last year that I'm looking forward to building on.”

Cowser will have ample opportunity this spring to prove that he belongs on the Opening Day roster, but Hyde has stressed to his young players that their best route to that goal is to take good at-bats and not focus on their stat lines.

“You're not going to make a club on March 4,” Hyde said. “Just continue to try to improve throughout camp and then we'll see what the roster looks like at that point.”

Although his first shot at the Majors didn’t go the way he had hoped it would, Cowser was able to take some positives from his brief stint in Baltimore.

“I didn't play that well, but I also had two game-winning RBI,” Cowser said. “If I'm doing that when I'm not performing well? That's just kind of a good building block and foundation to take into this year.”