They say sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can begin to rise back up to the top. For Los Angeles Angels prospect Kaleb Cowart, the Spring of 2015 had to be the rock bottom of his professional career. Cowart was drafted by the Angels with the 18th overall pick in 2010, but his career had stalled out after two lackluster seasons at AA Arkansas. A demotion to Class A Inland Empire and a chance encounter with a new hitting coach led Cowart on an unlikely path to the majors by the end of 2015.
Cowart had the not so unusual look of a first round flameout heading into 2015. The guy who made it through the lower levels of the minors on overall athletic ability, but couldn’t handle AA pitching when he got there. Drafted out of Cook High School in Adel, Georgia, Cowart had a pair of respectable seasons in Rookie ball and two levels of Class A. After being assigned to AA Arkansas to begin the 2013 season, the prevailing thought had to be that a solid season would have Cowart on the doorstep of the big leagues. Instead, a pair of sub-.600 OPS seasons had Cowart standing at the crossroads that many a minor leaguer has been at.
The third baseman was struggling so much in 2014 that not only did he abandon switch hitting, but considered a move to the pitching mound, which was thought to be his future destination before he was drafted. Cowart finished up 2014 with a slash line of .223/.295/.324 and found himself off of the 40-man roster for the Angels. Cowart went unprotected through the Rule 5 draft and after a poor Spring Training was demoted all the way down to Inland Empire.
The potential to never hear from Kaleb Cowart and his $2.3 million signing bonus again was looming large. A bit of fortune early in 2015 while with the 66ers may have turned his career around. Poring over video late at night with hitting coach Brent del Chiaro helped discover a change in Cowart’s stance that had occurred gradually over time. Cowart spent time in the batting cage trying to regain his previous form. Although the numbers weren’t showing it, he was feeling more comfortable at the plate and was regaining some confidence. Cowart reverted to his old stance, moving his hands farther away from his body, standing more upright and refining his toe tap.
The second bit of fortune for Kaleb Cowart in 2015 happened when the Angels called up Kyle Kubitza from AAA Salt Lake City to help a struggling offense. A lack of organizational depth at third base led to Cowart being promoted to the Bees. Instead of just holding down a temporary roster spot in AAA, something strange happened and Cowart began to mash like his pre-draft days. He batted .323/.395/.491 with 6 HRs and 45 RBIs in 62 games with Salt Lake. The ballparks of the Pacific Coast League are definitely known as hitters parks, but this kind of success after two years of mighty struggles could not be ignored. Could it be that Cowart had prospect status again and could have a future as a professional ball player?
Cowart’s turnaround was so impressive that when the Angels were going to be without David Freese for a period of time because of injury, they turned to Cowart to man the hot corner. Cowart has worked some at shortstop and in the outfield this season in order to increase his value as a utility player. His defense has never really been doubted. The question is whether his bat will continue to match his quick rise from the ashes of what appeared a short time ago to be a downward spiraling minor league career. Persistence counts and sometimes when you continue to work hard even in the face of adversity, you can catch lightning in a bottle. Kaleb Cowart’s future is far from certain, as is everything in life. He and the Angels have to hope the work will pay off for the once highly touted prospect and turn into a solid major league career.