With less than a week before the All-Star Break, the Orioles gave the call to top prospect Colton Cowser to join the Orioles in New York City to make his major league debut against the Yankees. At the time, the Orioles were reeling as an injury to Austin Hays and lingering soreness to Aaron Hicks and Cedric Mullins kept the outfield depth fairly thin. The call up of Cowser was meant to give the lineup a boost and add a fresh face to the clubhouse who could keep things light and humorous.
Of course, as a top prospect, Orioles fans had been flooding social media with demands to "Promote Cowser" for months and Mike Elias finally gave into these demands during a stretch where the O's had lost four of their last five. Since the promotion, the Orioles are 8-1 with series sweeps over potential playoff teams in the Twins and Marlins.
Despite this, Cowser has struggled offensively as he has not yet recorded an extra-base hit and his batting average has dipped well below the Mendoza Line. In past seasons, the Orioles could and would give players like Cowser plenty of opportunities at the big league level since the team was not expected to compete. However, the Orioles are now more than 20 games over .500 and had a logjam in the outfield before Cowser joined the team that has only gotten more tight.
Of course, fans are impatient and want to see immediate success from everyone, and I have already seen Twitter pages denouncing Cowser because of his extremely early struggles. Nine games is way too early to start worrying about anyone as it is a small sample size. Most of the Orioles best current hitters such as Austin Hays, Gunnar Henderson, and Cedric Mullins had extreme struggles early in their careers that they worked through to become star players.
Don't worry about Orioles outfield prospect Colton Cowser
So far, Cowser has a .130/.375/.130 slash line in nine games with a 52 OPS+. As I mentioned, the lack of extra-base hits, and hits in general, is worrisome for a player who dominated the minors in that regard. He is 3-for-23 with three singles thus far in his career.
It is important to note, however, that Cowser still impresses with his plate discipline despite his slow offensive start. He has drawn seven walks with only three strikeouts in this span. The ability to draw walks during offensive slumps is extremely valuable as he can still find ways to get on base and extend innings even when the hits are hard to come by.
Another Orioles hitter with a similarly slow start to his season was rookie infielder Gunnar Henderson. Through the first month of the season, Henderson had a .189 batting average and 69 OPS+. May was also a struggle for Gunnar as he hit .213 that month with an 84 OPS+. However, during these months Gunnar had good plate discipline which kept his on-base percentage respectable and kept him in the lineup most nights despite a crowded infield. Henderson drew 29 walks in 184 plate appearances during these first two months for a 15.8% walk rate.
Henderson turned a corner in June and has become one of the Orioles' best hitters on a strong offensive team which has allowed him to become a consistent leadoff hitter against righties. There are obviously differences between Henderson and Cowser, but this comparison does show two players who slumped early in their careers but stayed in the lineup by drawing walks. Things have worked out quite well for Gunnar and there is no reason why the same can't be true for Cowser.
With the sheer success Cowser had at every level of the minors, there is an expectation that he comes in and continues his success immediately. After all, Cowser was a college player and spent most of three seasons in the minors so he should be ready to contribute. A fellow rookie, Jordan Westburg, has had immediate offensive success in the majors although it has slowed a bit.
Cowser's struggles are a reminder that baseball is a difficult sport and the Majors are a huge step up from Triple-A. Especially when you play the majority of your Triple-A games at a hitters haven at Harbor Park in Norfolk.
The wrinkle for Cowser is that he will not get everyday starts while he is slumping. The Orioles have far too much talent in the outfield to play someone everyday who is struggling and the O's are in the midst of a division race with the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, and really everyone else in the AL East. The big test for Cowser will be how he responds to adversity mentally.
Cedric Mullins is a case study in how to positively overcome extreme diversity as he was sent to Double-A for most of what should have been his first full season in the big leagues. Of course, he bounced back to become an All-Star starter less than two years later. Since Cowser and Mullins are in the same clubhouse, Colton has the right guidance to overcome struggles and adversity.