Kaleb Cowart looked to be on the fast track to stardom, but a brutal 2013 campaign has knocked a lot of shine off his shooting star. He's still plenty young, but are his flaws too deep to be fixed?
Position: 3B Highest Level: Double-A
Bats: S Throws: R Height: 6'3" Weight: 190
Age: 22 Born: 6/2/1992
2013 Rank: 1
2013 Season Stats
Double-A: 546 PA, .221 AVG, .279 OBP, .301 SLG, 20 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 124 SO, 14 SB, 5 CS, .280 BABIP, .266 wOBA, 65 wRC+
Contact = C
In 2011, it appeared that Cowart had fixed many of the hitches that existed in his swing and had developed above average contact ability. While this remains true, AA pitchers certainly exposed Cowart’s weaknesses as a switch-hitter, most specifically his left-handed swing. He still generates more power from this side of the plate, but the load and swing are both long, leaving him susceptible to high strikes and pitches on the outer half. His right handed swing however was on target as he showed a consistent ability to hit LHP.
Power = B
Though it didn’t necessarily show in the numbers, Cowart still has considerable strength and can drive balls into the gaps and over fences with authority. He isn’t necessarily a power hitter, but he certainly has all the necessary pop to be a prototypical third baseman.
Discipline = B-
Part of what made Cowart such a desirable prospect last season was his ability to reach base via the walk at such a young age. It showed an advanced skill set and ability to make adjustments. Those observations proved to be hasty in light of his struggles in AA. Though this tool is still solid for his age, it’s clear Cowart still has considerable work to do before reaching the Major Leagues.
Speed = B-
Cowart is pretty fast for a prototypical 3B, swiping more than 10 SB for the second consecutive season.
Arm = A
As I said last season, pure “A” grades are only reserved for players whose specific tool happens to good for even the Major League level. Read any scouting report on Kaleb Cowart and you’ll hear the same, he has an absolute cannon for an arm at the hot corner. Without a doubt, among the best in all the minor leagues.
Fielding = B+
Cowart has shown great athleticism at third base this season. He’s made difficult plays look routine, flashing an exceptional glove both to his left and right.
Range = B+
Cowart has well above average range and is among the quickest in the game in his lateral movements. His long frame gives Kaleb the opportunity to dive and reach many balls other third baseman (namely Alberto Callaspo) wouldn’t have a chance at.
Performance = D
Statistically, Cowart had an abysmal season. It was clear from the get-go that he was overmatched by the superior level of play in AA. It isn’t as if the Angels rushed him, but it’s likely that the challenge for Cowart won’t be a one year thing to overcome. Cowart looks as though he needs another season in AA before moving on to AAA and the Major Leagues. This works out well for Cowart in terms of age appropriate development. Had he succeeded as a 21 year old in AA he would’ve been a couple years ahead of the curve. As it stands, if Cowart repeats AA in his age 22 season, he’d still be relatively young for the league. Time is definitely on Kaleb’s side.
Projection = A
You can count on one hand the amount of major league 3B that are exceptional defenders, switch hitters with both an above average tool for power and discipline/patience. Cowart has the ability to be all of these things, but I must preach patience for Angels fans. Even if he makes it to the Major Leagues in the next two years, it will very likely be two or three years after that before he turns into an all-star caliber third baseman.
Grade as a Prospect = B
Cowart has a long way to go, but undoubtedly with his upside and the fact that he made it to the upper minors in such a hurry, he’s still a prospect worth getting excited over.
Estimated MLB Arrival Date = Beginning of 2016
The smart move here would be to give Kaleb Cowart as much time as possible to refine his game so as to avoid the steep learning curve that comes with the Major Leagues. Repeating AA as a 22 year old next season wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible move. Giving him another year after that to gain some confidence in AAA couldn’t hurt either. The Angels still have Grant Green, Luis Jimenez and Andrew Romine as possible options.
2013 in Review*
There is no nice way of putting it, Cowart was dreadful in 2013, at least at the plate. It was the kind of collapse that is already, unfairly, getting him likened to Brandon Wood. Ironically, that comparison is unfair in favor of Wood, who actually hit pretty well in Arkansas.
What happened to Cowart was that the issues in his swings were badly exposed. The most attention has gone to his left-handed swing, which is pretty fair since he posted just a .536 OPS from that side of the plate. But it wasn't as if Cowart was mashing as a right-handed batter. His righty OPS was a tolerable .705, but he barely showed any power from that side either, hitting just two homers to go with a .098 ISO.
For a player whose offensive profile was always supposed to be buoyed more by his power than his ability to hit for average, failing to drive the ball is a huge problem. A lot of that though is just that Cowart struggled to make quality contact. He whiffed over 20% of the time from both sides of the plate and 22.7% overall. If their is a consolation, it is that he had nearly identical walk rates from both sides and finished the year with a 7.0% walk rate. That isn't great, but in the context of everything else he did, it is a sign of hope.
Cowart will undoubtedly be returning to Arkansas to try and work out his issues. He has already added 15 pounds of muscle this off-season, so he will hopefully be able to muscle up on the ball more, but that won't mean anything if he doesn't start squaring it up to begin with.
While it might be frustrating to see Cowart take such a huge step backwards, the fact that he doesn't turn 22 until June should provide some solace. Not everyone can annihilate the Texas League at age 20 like Mike Trout did, in fact, most don't even reach that level by that age. So, Cowart does get that as a bit of an excuse. However, that excuse won't fly this year. Yes, he is still going to be one of the youngest players in the league, but he has a full year of experience at Double-A and he simply must make progress.
If Cowart can right the ship, he should still be perfectly on track to take over at third base in 2016, which is right after David Freese's contract expires. If he can't, the Angels will have to look elsewhere and start getting into more desperate measures with Cowart. Though I doubt they will seriously consider it during the 2014 season, if Kaleb doesn't start producing from the left side of the dish, scrapping the switch-hitting thing is at least going to be floated as an idea after the season. At least that way Cowart can focus more time on getting his right-handed swing up to big league standards.
*As we do every year, the scouting reports and grades are provided by Scotty Allen while Garrett Wilson provides the 2013 in Review and Looking Ahead sections.