For the second straight year, the Baltimore Orioles decided to go under slot, selecting a college outfielder with the fifth overall pick
In the first round of the 2021 MLB Draft Sunday night, the Baltimore Orioles selected Colton Cowser, a centerfielder from Sam Houston State. Cowser was not ranked as highly as the fifth overall pick on industry draft boards, so he likely will not demand a full slot bonus.
According to Major League Baseball’s rules for this year’s draft, the slot value for the fifth pick is a little over $6.1 million, so there is a good chance that the Orioles will save one or two million dollars to spend on later picks to further boost what is becoming a very strong farm system.
Fan reaction online has been mixed between frustration for taking the best player available and an understanding that the front office is using their money creatively. I personally would have preferred taking high school shortstop Kahlil Watson, who fell to the Miami Marlins with the 16th pick, but Cowser is still someone to get excited about.
Colton Cowser is an accomplished college performer, the kind of player GM Mike Elias loves and I appreciate. Playing in the small Southland conference, Cowser flew a bit under the radar but still tore up the competition. During the 2021 season, he had a slash line of .374/.490/.680, good for an OPS of 1.170. He hit 16 home runs and stole 17 bases, so the Orioles are getting a potential power/speed threat.
Cowser can tap into more power as he develops in the minors, but he already has a great feel for hitting, which is the most important characteristic for amateurs. Cowser is good enough to stay in centerfield, so he could complement Cedric Mullins down the road. It also gives him a higher floor than last year’s pick, Heston Kjerstad, because Cowser does not rely as much on his hit tool to produce value.
I am not sure going under slot again was the best strategy, but it makes more sense this year than last year. As I outlined before the first round, cutting a deal at fifth overall is a smaller difference in prospect value than cutting a deal at second overall. The Pittsburgh Pirates are taking that risk, as they chose Louisville catcher Henry Davis first overall instead of high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer.
Regardless of what you think about the Orioles’ first pick, the remaining 20 picks made on Tuesday and Wednesday will help the team continue adding to their ranks. I expect them to assign Cowser to Low-A Delmarva when he debuts in the coming weeks. He might need to adjust to better pitching at first, but next year he should move more quickly.
Here’s to the future, one that got a lot brighter on Sunday.