Last night, the Angels’ High-A affiliate, the Inland Empire 66ers, released their Opening Day roster and shockingly, it included former top prospect Kaleb Cowart. Cowart, who enters the season ranked as the eighth best Angels’ prospect per MLB.com, held the #1 spot among Angel farmhands the previous two seasons.
Cowart has spent the last two years in Double-A Arkansas and was expected to begin the season there in 2015. In a move that few saw coming, the Angels decided to demote the young third baseman who has experienced his fair share of struggles during his tenure with the Travelers.
In 258 games with the Travelers, Cowart barely hit above the Mendoza line and saw his power take a huge dip at the same time. In over 1,000 plate appearances in Double-A, Cowart struggled to a meager .222/.286/.312 slashline, a stark contrast to the .810 OPS he posted in 2012 between Class-A and High-A. Although he hasn’t hit much of recent, he does contribute in other ways on the field with solid defense and speed on the base paths. Despite committing 20+ errors in his each of his past two seasons, scouts tend to agree that he does (or at the very least, can) play an above average third base and possess a strong arm. Cowart also set a season high in stolen bases last season while going 26-33 in base stealing opportunities.
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The Georgia native will return to Inland Empire with hopes of rectifying his swing and preserving his future as an infielder. This will be Cowart’s second time donning a 66ers jersey, as he played in 69 games with the team in 2012 before being promoted at the year’s end.
While you can’t help but feel a little disappointed in the former first round pick for his failure to deliver as a big time prospect, by no means should Cowart take 100% of the blame in this situation.
The case could be made that management handled Cowart poorly and was far too antsy in promoting the rising star. After being drafted in 2010 out of high school, Cowart spent 79 games in rookie ball split between his age 18-19 seasons before being bumped up to Class-A in 2012. After excelling in half a season in A-ball, Cowart was aggressively promoted to play with Inland Empire. Still in his age 20 season, Cowart was the second youngest batter in the entire California League where he played out the rest of the year.
Before the 2013 campaign, Cowart was recognized as a Top 100 prospect by media outlets and as high as #42 by Baseball Prospectus. With just 315 plate appearances at High-A, Cowart probably should’ve begun the year there but general manager Jerry Dipoto insisted that Cowart be promoted to Double-A, with aspirations of being able to take over for incumbent Angels’ third baseman, Alberto Callaspo, in the upcoming years. Cowart entered the new Texas League three years younger than the average hitter and was the fifth youngest position player in the league. The rest is history.
A series of overaggressive promotions for a kid who played well, but never spectacularly, has crippled one of the Angels’ best young assets. Now, Dipoto & Company must head back to square one with Cowart, in a make-or-break season for the youngster, to recoup some of that lost potential.
But even if Cowart rediscovers his swing, performs admirably, and is promoted once more to Double-A, does it even matter? With the acquisition of 3B prospect Kyle Kubitza this offseason, the writing is practically on the wall for Cowart. Kubitza received an extended look this spring at third and is poised to take over David Freese’s role in 2016 after spending this season in Triple-A. A lot is going to have to go right for Cowart while a lot must go wrong for Kubitza in order for Cowart to have an opportunity to play with the Angels anytime soon.
I wish Kaleb Cowart nothing but the best in his quest to regain his old form. Hopefully he can turn things around and recapture the skills that have since evaded him following his promotion to Arkansas. But unfortunately, time is becoming of the essence for Kaleb and if this year doesn’t go accordingly, his days as a third baseman may be few. The harsh reality is that now with Kubitza in the picture, Cowart’s dreams of taking the field for the Halos are slimmer than ever before and possibly, non-existential.