I am often the first member of the staff to find out about a roster move, as I have set my phone to deliver tweet alerts when the transaction-tracking Twitter account @MLBRosterMoves tweets. I was, therefore, able to receive this notice.
Why not? Kaleb Cowart has been a wholly unimpressive major leaguer to date, with a grisly 46 wRC+ and .177/.241/.293 line in 380 PAs across four seasons. Still, Cowart is an able defender across the entire infield, has played a bit of outfield, and is still just 26 years of age. The 18th overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Angels is a 6’3, 220 lbs switch-hitter who would be a clearly useful MLB player if he could put it together even just slightly at the plate.
But the more important context came from the official announcement:
Now we’re talking. The link above indicates that Cowart will come to Spring Training as a two-way player, presumably working in a relief role in addition to his utility history. Cowart hasn’t thrown a single pitch in his professional career, so the learning curve will be steep. Interestingly, however, Cowart was regarded as a much stronger pitching prospect by scouts than as a hitter at the time of his drafting. From Baseball America’s initial draft report:
Cowart was in the running to be the High School Player of the Year as a dominant two-way player, evoking comparisons to past Georgia preps Buster Posey and Ethan Martin. Those two examples set up two different paths for Cowart, who like Posey is a Florida State signee. Posey was more of a third-round talent out of high school and a different type of pitcher than Cowart, who on the mound is all about power. He has arm strength and good sinking life on his plus fastball, which sits in the 91-93 mph range at its best. He also has a hard slider and scouts don’t seem to mind his split-finger fastball, either.
Cowart’s arm strength has been regarded as top-notch throughout his career, so it’s possible he could have gained strength and velocity since he was 18, but it’s still a long shot to see him successfully transitioning at the MLB level. Cowart is out of minor league options, meaning he’ll probably have to learn on the fly in major league games if the M’s opt to continue the experiment into the season. Here’s some video of Cowart on the mound back in high school:
Seeing as the Mariners are likely to boast one of the league’s most inexperienced pitching staffs in 2019, it seems savvy to get creative in extending the depth of their bullpen. If Cowart can provide passable utility play in addition to passable low-leverage relief innings, it would be a fantastic bit of creative roster usage. More likely, the learning curve will be too steep, but for a 2019 Mariners team with little pretense of contention, there’s time to let players attempt to figure things out. Here’s hoping this attempt at creativity and flexibility is rewarded with success.