Not long ago it seemed the Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league cupboard was bare. One major trade in December of 2007 to obtain Oakland ace Dan Haren and right-handed pitcher Connor Robertson cost the Diamondbacks prospects Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Chris Carter, Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith. Haren served his new team well and most of the prospects sent to Oakland have become stars of the game or emerging major league players.
Now, three-and-a-half years later, the Diamondbacks' organizational depth appears to be off life support. Within the next few years, several players are in the queue to make a difference at the big league level. Certainly, pitchers such as Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs have the attention of the front office. Big thumper Paul Goldschmidt is making a name for himself with a display of power at Double-A Mobile. The Diamondbacks may have fortified their pitching for years to come by selecting pitchers Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin in the first round of Monday's 2011 first-year player draft
Outfield depth at the higher levels of the D-Backs' organization represents a major strength for Arizona. A.J. Pollock, Evan Frey, Cole Gillespie and Marc Krauss have received their share of attention as top prospect outfielders, but there's one more name that should not be forgotten. Collin Cowgill is calling attention to himself by pounding the pitching at Triple-A Reno in the Pacific Coast League. Until recently he may have been an afterthought in the outfield depth chart by many. Not so fast. It's important to note that as of this writing, only Gillespie is on the 40-man roster. Contract years and status dictate those 40 precious roster spots, but make no mistake, Cowgill is in the mix.
I have watched the Diamondbacks' outfield prospects play in the Arizona Fall League and in spring training. I believe Cowgill is as good an outfielder as any player in the very deep outfield of the D-Backs' organization. Maybe better. He has a chance to carve out a fine major league career.
Cowgill is a stocky, 5-foot-9, 185-pound right-handed hitting, left-handed throwing outfielder with raw power. The righty-lefty difference is rare. Cody Ross hits and throws the same way. Ironically, Cowgill is often compared in ability to Ross.
Should Cowgill make the 40-man roster, he will join a very select fraternity. Only 10 other outfielders on major league rosters are under 5-foot-9. The others are primarily speedsters that can be counted on to steal bases as their primary tool. Those players include: Jarrod Dyson (Royals), Ben Revere (Twins), Matt Young (Braves), Luis Durango (Padres), Tony Campana (Cubs), Willie Harris (Mets), Jason Bourgeois (Astros) and Xavier Paul (Pirates.) Of that group, Cowgill might be closest to Paul, but the others don't have the power potential of Cowgill.
The 25-year-old Cowgill is a graduate of Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Kentucky. (Former major league outfielder John Shelby also attended Henry Clay.) Cowgill was named the Louisville Slugger Player of the Year in Kentucky after his senior year. In addition, he was honored as Kentucky's "Mr. Baseball" that same year. Baseball is serious business in Kentucky and those honors should not be taken lightly.
Cowgill attended University of Kentucky and in 2007, he was drafted in the 29th round by Oakland. That same year, Cowgill missed time with a broken hamate bone. But instead of signing with the A's, Cowgill stayed in school and put up his best college numbers as a second year redshirt junior. He hit .361/19/60 in his last year at Kentucky. As a result, he was drafted by Arizona in the fifth round in 2008, and waiting to sign certainly paid off for him.
In his first year of professional baseball, Cowgill hit 11 home runs in only 79 at-bats at short-season Yakima. His power had been established in professional baseball.
The times I have seen Cowgill, I have been impressed with the tenacity and grit with which he plays the game. He's the type of player that gets his uniform dirty. Maybe a good comp for Cowgill from a physical and hustle standpoint would be Lenny Dykstra.
Cowgill's best tool is his raw power. He hits left-handed pitching very well and he holds his own against righties. But most importantly, he makes every at-bat count. Cowgill has improved his plate discipline this season, but he still doesn't always make contact at the plate. He lets the ball travel before he swings, allowing himself to hit to all fields. But because of his intensity, he may need additional work on his pitch recognition as he can be fooled at times.
With his solid build, Cowgill relies on strong forearms and wrists to generate outstanding bat speed that triggers his power. His hands are in good hitting position during his swing and that allows him to clear the pitch quickly with a short pass at the pitch. On the few occasions when his swing gets long, he gets himself out.
I like the fact that Cowgill is versatile enough to play all three outfield positions. His arm is strong enough to play right. He is quick enough to play center. Generally speaking, Cowgill's defensive ability is at least major league average. He isn't Gold Glove caliber, but he won't make crucial mistakes that cost his team a game. Cowgill takes good routes and he knows how to play his position. At worst, he can serve a club as a fourth outfielder to come off the bench or be a late-game defensive replacement in a double-switch.
Cowgill has enough speed to take the extra base or to go from first to third on a hit to the opposite field. I think he'll steal bases, as he's shown that ability in his minor league career. That quality will further endear him to fantasy players looking for a fourth outfielder type in deeper NL-only leagues.
In 2010 at Double-A Mobile, Cowgill's line was .284/16/83 in 502 at-bats. He drew 57 walks and struck out 73 times while stealing 25 bases.
His solid season at Mobile earned him a promotion this season to Triple-A Reno. As of this writing his line is as follows:
.353/11/36, 17-for-19 on stolen-base attempts in 221 at-bats. The most telling numbers include an on base percentage of .419 and a slugging percentage of 579. Net result? An OPS of .998.
The Diamondbacks have begun a transition from their previous administration to the days of Kevin Towers as their general manager. Towers has placed a priority on pitching. He has constructed a bullpen that has helped improve the competitive nature of the club. Now, he is working on creating starting rotation depth within the organization. With the pitching improving, it is time for the front office to turn their attention to position players. The outfield prospects will be a critical component of the total D-Backs makeover. That's where a player with the power potential of Cowgill fits in the long-term picture.
He may have the rawest power of any of the team's outfield prospects, and it comes with the ability to run and play defense. He has good plate discipline that should bring a decent enough average. There's lots to like about Cowgill. Like every other prospect, he needs an opportunity to show he belongs. The way he's been hitting, that chance may come. Cowgill is a solid player with skills that can help a big league club. And now he's in the mix.
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Bernie Pleskoff is a former pro scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. He is a graduate of the Major League Scouting Bureau's Scout School in Phoenix.