After dropping off, Cowart bulks up in offseason
Left out of Top 100 Prospects, Angels infielder hopes added muscle helps rebound
ANAHEIM -- Kaleb Cowart has ditched the small town and moved to the big city. This offseason, the 21-year-old third baseman -- and still a top prospect for the Angels -- left behind his rural hometown of Adel, Ga., and rented a townhouse in bustling Atlanta, to train at the heralded Goldin Athletic Training Association and to, as he put it, "Get a lot bigger."
"And I accomplished that," Cowart said proudly.
Cowart lifted like he never has and increased his daily intake to 5,000 calories, which requires a lot of eating when your diet consists of grilled chicken, broccoli and protein shakes. Cowart showed up to his first Spring Training last year weighing about 212 pounds, and he finished the instructional league at around 205. Since then, he's gained 15 pounds.
"I need it, man," Cowart said in a phone conversation Friday morning. "Last year, I got a little gassed towards the end of the year, and I was disappointed with the year I had, and I just wanted to come back to Spring Training and come out swinging, man, have a good year. I need a good year."
MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects were unveiled Thursday night, and the Angels were the only team without a representative. It's a reflection of the current state of their farm system and a reminder of how difficult the jump to Double-A proved to be for Cowart, who went from No. 67 to off the board in one calendar year.
Cowart went from a .276/.358/.452 slash line at both Class A affiliates in 2012 to a .221/.279/.301 mark for Double-A Arkansas. His strikeout rate increased (from .18 per plate appearance to .23) and his walk rate plummeted (from .11 per plate appearance to .07). Cowart went from 16 homers and 103 RBIs to six homers and 42 RBIs.
And Cowart might have delayed his timeline by a year.
Last offseason, the Halos bought out one season of Alberto Callaspo's free agency to make him the starting third baseman through 2014, at which time, they hoped, Cowart would take over.
But in July -- partly because the team wasn't in line for the playoffs, partly because Cowart needed more time -- Callaspo was traded to the A's in exchange for infielder Grant Green. And over the offseason, Peter Bourjos was dealt to the Cardinals in a deal that landed David Freese, the 30-year-old third baseman who won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season.
"That's obviously whatever's going to help the club win at that time," Cowart said. "I can only control how I play. If I play well, it'll happen. I don't look at stuff like that. I try to focus just on myself."
Cowart's focus centers on improving from the left side of the plate, and figuring out a way to hit right-handers.
The switch-hitting Cowart struggled a bit against righties in 2012 and aimed to quiet his stride from the left side, a concept he showed signs of progress with in Spring Training. But he never got right when the regular season began, posting a .539 OPS in 415 plate appearances from the left side of the plate -- compared to a .705 OPS in 131 plate appearances from the right side -- and went back to the drawing board once again.
Cowart, the 18th overall selection by the Angels out of high school in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, said he had "a lot of excess movement" in his swing, which was "making my head move" and gave him "a hard time getting on time." Now, he says, "It looks a lot different" and significantly more subtle.
The new weight -- good weight, he emphasizes -- has actually made Cowart feel faster, healthier, and of course, stronger.
Cowart needs a good year, and isn't shy about expressing that.
"I'm my own worst critic," said Cowart, who's expected to start the season in Double-A again. "I'm tough on myself, just because I know the potential I have and what I can do. I'm excited about the new things that I've changed and what's going to happen this year."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.