September 27, 2012
Chone Figgins had an amazing season in 2009: he posted a .289 TAv and, because of a lofty defensive rating (16.7 FRAA), finished the year with a remarkable 7.2 WARP. Baseball Prospectus 2010 put it best: “Talk about a walk year: in the final season of his contract, Figgins burnished his credentials as an elite leadoff hitter by leading the AL in bases on balls and ranking second in both times on base and runs scored, third in steals, and fourth in pitches per plate appearance.” Figgins would decline the Angels’ offer of arbitration and would instead sign with Seattle, leaving the Angels with nothing. Nothing, except for a pair of draft picks, one of which they used on Kaleb Cowart.
The Angels nabbed Cowart with the 18th overall pick in the 2010 draft out of Cook HS in Adel, GA. He wasn’t a monster, but he was a switch hitter, had excellent tools, and was something to dream on. A late signing limited his time on the field in 2010, so he was still in rookie ball for 2011. With the Orem Owlz, Cowart posted a modest .283/.345/.420 line with seven home runs. He struck out 81 times and picked up just 25 bases on balls in 72 games, so there was some cause for concern about his approach.
However, 2012 was an important season for him for Cowart. It was his first season playing in a full-season league, and a few scouts fell in love with him. “There aren’t that many true third basemen [at that stage],” opined one scout. Many third basemen are shortstops with big arms that are forced to move to the hot corner because of range deficiencies, but Cowart is the exception to that rule. He doesn’t have crazy range for the position, but he balances his defensive game with an arm that’s an easy 60 (with some even calling it a 70) and strong instincts. Multiple evaluators believe that as he matures and logs innings, his defense will be a weapon for him.
The reasons to get excited about Cowart don’t end with his play at third base. He has plus power potential from both sides of the plate and a fluid swing that allows him to use the entire field. This season, he launched 16 home runs in 606 plate appearances across Low- and High-A and picked up 38 additional extra-base hits. The power continues to come as Cowart fills out his 6-foot-3, 195 pound frame.
Cowart's approach has taken big strides; in 2012, he improved at recognizing pitches and showed an improved ability to work counts and wait for the right offering, which allowed his above-average bat speed to do its work. His swing is fluid from both sides of the plate, but right now evaluators like him better hitting from the right side. His bat could still play as a left-hander in the right situations, but the swing is noticeably longer, which could cause him to struggle against elite velocity.
As a runner, Cowart is athletic but below average right now. As he fills out, he’s expected to lose some of his speed, and he could be a liability on the bases in time.
All of this offensive upside might never have even sniffed pro ball. In high school, Cowart had a fastball that sat in the low 90s with good movement. Given his strong baseball aptitude and ability to make adjustments, both on the fly and long-term, Cowart may very well have been able to carve out a career as a pitcher. We may always wonder what might have been, but both Cowart and the Angels should be very satisfied with the decision to plant him at third.
Overall, we’re looking at a young 20-year-old with high upside both offensively and defensively. Cowart has a chance to become an above-average third baseman and could do so at a very young age. Strong performances this fall and next spring could catapult him to Double-A, where he’d be a heartbeat away from Angel Stadium. With no long-term candidate for the hot corner already on the big club, the Angels may have one waiting in the wings.