Instead of inserting a witty lede to kick of this week’s prospect post, I decided I would share three major breakthroughs I’ve made in life over the past 24 hours. Some may be more relevant to you than others, but the first is the most essential — and also the most blatantly obvious. One: if you’re building your dynasty league strategy based on MLB Pipeline’s top-100 prospect rankings and not The Itch’s, you’re putting yourself at an incredible disadvantage. If you’re reading this, then you’ve navigated to Razzball for a reason — so utilize the resources we have for you. Without a doubt, The Itch’s prospect rankings are the best out there for fantasy purposes and I base my personal strategy off of them while incorporating my own evaluations. Two: moving forward, I will be alternating between a Prospect Watch piece (this week) and unveiling five new college prospects in my Way-Too-Early Top 25 for the 2022 MLB Draft. That makes one of each per month as every post will arrive on Tuesdays on a bi-weekly basis. Three: Colton Cowser is a somewhat-cool name aided by alliteration, but it’s even better and far-more fierce when you flip it backwards: Reswoc Notloc. How awesome? It honestly sounds like something out of a Lord of the Rings novel: Reswoc the Warlock. Anyway, Reswoc is the focus of this week’s Prospect Watch piece. If you’ve been following my collegiate prospect coverage the past two years, then you’re already somewhat familiar with him. Today, I’ll provide an update and let you know how you should be evaluating Mr. Notloc in your dynasty league moving forward.
First, let’s recap. Despite being ranked as the No. 10 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline (boo!), Cowser went fifth overall to the Baltimore Orioles in the 2021 MLB Draft. Baltimore played the bonus pool savings game with their top selection for the second-consecutive year (2020: Heston Kjerstad), reaching slightly for Cowser and signing him for roughly $1.3M less than the slot value of $6,180,700. Here at Razzball, I ranked Cowser the No. 6 college prospect in the draft behind only Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker, Sal Frelick, Jud Fabian and Henry Davis (in that order). For my pre-draft intel on Cowser, you can find my final analysis of him here and some earlier insight on the now-Baltimore outfield prospect here.
In both of those posts, I looked past names provided by various pundits such as Brandon Nimmo and Bradley Zimmer, and comped the left-handed-hitting Cowser to Christian Yelich. Why? I’m sick and tied or ‘perts’ giving underwhelming comparisons to players simply to save their own behinds. Although I did temper my comparison in the latter of those two posts, I do believe Cowser will end up being much closer to Yelich as an everyday major leaguer than Nimmo or Zimmer. Here’s what I said when I ranked Cowser at No. 6 in the college crop:
“I comped Cowser to Christian Yelich in the sense that the former is being labeled as a hit tool-first prospect with roughly 15-20 home run power as a future big leaguer. Similar thoughts were common in scouting circles as it related to Yelich while he was progressing through the Marlins’ Minor League system, and I expect Cowser’s swing to develop similarly from the left side of the plate.”
Truth be told, both players possess(ed) innate bat-to-ball skills with a knack for finding holes in opposing defenses early on in their careers. What prospect ‘perts’ and fantasy managers alike often fail to recognize is that players who consistently put the pall in play and make hard contact will develop power, no matter how Rob Manfred decides to play with his balls in a particular year. And we all know he loves to play with his balls. The power numbers will jump so long as the hit tool pans out as expected, and the MLB hitting environment often accelerates that process.
Here’s a quality look at the type of bat-to-ball, hit-em-where-they-ain’t approach that might be the cause for some of these tempered evaluations.
A base hit back up the middle courtesy of @BearkatsBSB’s Colton Cowser. He’s one of the top college bats in the class and already has a single on the day as the action begins over at Shriner’s. #PGDraft pic.twitter.com/hwYWFNDbgF
— PG College Baseball (@PGCollegeBall) March 5, 2021
Short stroke. Quick and direct to the ball. Shooting the pitch right back where it came from to a location 25+ feet from the closest infielder. It’s a great approach, but is it why so many seem to think Cowser can’t hit 25-30 home runs regularly as a big leaguer?
It’s not like Cowser didn’t hit for power at Sam Houston State. He did. Despite being labeled with 60 hit and speed tools, his power tool was graded at 50. And quite frankly, it’s a fair grade. I won’t argue there. The issue comes when we begin projecting numbers for players with Cowser’s offensive profile at the MLB level, which is A) impossible to begin with and B) clouded further when you immediately limit a player’s ceiling by confusing raw power with in-game power. Even when Yelich turned in back-to-back top-two NL MVP finishes, no one was labeling Yelich as one of the game’s elite raw-power threats. The 40-homer pop came due to consistent hard contact in a friendly hitting environment. A hitter that was always great was made even better by tapping into more in-game power and launching the ball in an age of the game where such an approach was rewarded more often than not.
So, about that power. In 125 career college games, Cowser slashed .354/.460/.608 with 24 home runs, nine triples, 30 doubles and 31 stolen bases. That’s 63 extra-base hits in 125 games — almost exactly one every two games. However, in his final season in 2021, he hit 16 home runs in just 55 games, all the while maintaining roughly the same overall extra-base power. His slugging percentage climbed up to a career-high mark of .680 while his OPS finished at 1.170. For his career, Cowser walked more than he struck out(13.1 BB%, 12.0 K%), including a BB-K ratio of 42-to-32 in his final season. Even with the tempered home run projections, Cowser had the makings of a five-category fantasy star heading into the draft. Let’s review some video, first of a high-and-inside offering pulled deep and out to right.
— Frisco Classic ?? (@FriscoClassic) March 2, 2019
And oppo to left-center, a Yelich specialty.
Sam Houston State OF Colton Cowser is on an absolute tear right now.
He’s went yard in each of the last 5 games, 12 on the year. Slashing .375/.504/.779 over 29 G this season. Good chance for a 15/15+ season. True CF with 1st round tools and plenty of projection left. #MLBDraft pic.twitter.com/BFpKdRUJNE
— Ian Smith (@FlaSmitty) April 11, 2021
He even had that same rock-back, “did I really get all of it?” approach that Yelich has to this day in his follow-through. But that was college.
Then, Baltimore called his name this past July. As is the case for many top draft choices, Cowser had a cup of coffee in Rookie-ball, where he hit .500/.560/.733 with four XBH, three steals, three walks and four strikeouts in seven games. That earned him a promotion to Low-A Delmarva (where?), where he has spent the past 20 games racking up 99 plate appearances. So far, virtually nothing has changed about his offensive profile, although the power is admittedly a bit down: .377/.505/.481, one home run, five doubles, 20 RBI, 17 runs and four stolen bases. Meanwhile, Cowser is walking at a 18.2% clip while striking out just 15.2% of the time.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 22, 2021
Here’s where the comp comes in. Upon being drafted 23rd overall in 2010, Yelich played 12 games (50 PA) at Rookie-level and Low-A. He didn’t hit a single home run and produced a .468 slugging percentage — .13 points lower than Cowser’s current Low-A mark and .77 points lower than Cowser’s combined 2021 SLG. At Single-A in 2011, Yelich slugged .484 with 15 homers in 122 games. Seven-to-eight years layer, Yelich would be turning in slugging percentages of .598 and .671 in his fifth and sixth full-MLB seasons with 80 combined home runs those two years. And here’s one last nugget: from 2010-11 in the minor leagues, Yelich had a 10.2 BB% and 20.1 K%, striking out nearly twice as often as he walked.
Now, you might ask: why the fascination with Yelich, and does it even really mean anything considering Yelich’s power numbers have come back down to Earth, perhaps even down to the Earth’s mantle? Yes. Of course it means something. Every player (and prospect, for that matter) is different. This is simply a case study (is it though?) to prove a point about limiting what a prospect is capable of before they even have the chance to prove otherwise.
As it stands today, Cowser owns a combined .404/.516/.545 batting line between Rookie-level and Low-A. He is ranked the No. 75 fantasy prospect in baseball by The Itch, sandwiched between Reggie Preciado and Jose Ramos and just five spots behind Royce Lewis. As you can tell, I’m a bit more bullish, but it’s a fair and reasonable spot for the amount of data we have at this moment in time.
Personally, I have Cowser ranked as a top-50 prospect in baseball. But as The Itch is well aware, I’m a bit more loose cannon with my rankings of prospects. That’s why he does the official lists, and I ramble on with analysis such as what you’re reading today. But for what it’s worth, I think Cowser is capable of being a .285/.375/.480 hitter with 25-25 ability. And here’s the fun part. I calculated those projections, and before publishing, decided to look at Yelich’s 162-game MLB averages after the fact: .293/.380/.480, 24 HR, 20 SB.
You don’t have to believe me, but that’s something I can get behind. And if you think I’m crazy, or my logic is out of whack, let’s chat about it.
That’s all for this week! As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.