The Orioles used the fifth overall pick in the MLB draft on Sunday to take Sam Houston’s Colton Cowser, selecting a college position player in the first round for the third straight season and an outfielder for the second year in a row.
Cowser follows catcher Adley Rutschman and outfielder Heston Kjerstad as Baltimore’s top selections under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. Each ranks among the Orioles’ top four prospects, though Kjerstad has yet to play a professional game after developing myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) last fall. Rutschman, meanwhile, is the organization’s top prospect and the highest-ranking prospect in the sport among those who have yet to play in the majors.
After being drafted Sunday, Cowser joins the Orioles’ ascendant farm system. Here are five things to know about the player the Orioles made the No. 5 pick:
1. He’s received plenty of accolades.
When Cowser was named a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award — which Rutschman won in 2019 as the nation’s top amateur — he became the first player in Sam Houston history to make that cut for the prestigious honor.
His play in the 2021 season — hitting .374/.490/.680 with 16 home runs and 17 steals — earned him the distinction of Southland Conference Player of the Year. After his freshman season in 2019, he made the Team USA Collegiate National Team, where he was a teammate of Kjerstad’s and earned Most Valuable Player of the USA vs Cuba Friendship series by hitting .438. He also was recognized as a Freshman All-American by D1Baseball.com, Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball Magazine and Perfect Game.
He’s the highest draftee in school history. Two years ago, the Orioles took Sam Houston catcher Jordan Cannon in the 10th round. He and Cowser just recently went to lunch together.
“Sam Houston, they’re a great program,” Cowser said. “They’ve produced a lot of talent over the years, it really is just a winning program, and for them to give me the opportunity to come in and play and develop means in the world to me. It’ll be fun still rocking the black and orange.”
2. He’s making history for his high school.
When Cowser graduated from Houston-area Cypress Ranch High school in 2018, its baseball program had never produced a first-round draft pick.
Since, it’s had three, with Cowser being highest among them. In 2019, right-hander JJ Goss went 36th overall to the Tampa Bay Rays, and after the Orioles took Cowser on Sunday, the Detroit Tigers selected Ty Madden 32nd overall. Cowser and Madden had a draft party together Sunday at Creekwood Grill in Cypress.
Before this run, the highest draft pick in school history was second-rounder Corbin Martin, who the Houston Astros selected while Elias oversaw their drafts.
3. He missed Elias’ call to learn about the pick.
A video on the Orioles’ Twitter account showing the moment Elias and Cowser talked by phone about the pick was captioned “Colton gets the call.” But really, it was Cowser who called Elias.
The video starts with Elias’ phone ringing. He says, “Oh, here we go,” then gives Cowser a hard time.
“What’s going on?” Elias said. “You’re not answering your phone?”
Turns out Cowser did notice Elias’ call, but he didn’t have the GM’s number, and he said he was told not to answer calls from numbers he didn’t recognize.
“It ended up being him,” Cowser said, “so then I gave him a call right back.”
Elias never told Cowser the Orioles were drafting him, but he delivered the message all the same. He had just been in Baltimore for a predraft workout.
“Did you fly all the way back to Texas?” Elias asked. “Would you mind flying back again in a couple days?”
4. He should stick in center field.
Many of Elias’ earliest picks with the Orioles have been up-the-middle position players — catchers, shortstops and center fielders. Cowser should continue this trend.
Elias called Cowser a “five-tool player,” meaning he can hit for power and average, runs well and plays strong defense with an above-average throwing arm. That arm, Elias said, could play in right field if needed, but he sees Cowser as a center fielder.
The Orioles, of course, have an All-Star center fielder in Cedric Mullins, one Elias praised earlier this week as one of the best in the American League. But given the ability to easily move up-the-middle players to corner spots, “you can never have too many center fielders,” Elias said.
All 69 of Cowser’s appearances over the past two seasons have come in center, though he moved around the outfield and also played some third base as a freshman.
5. He’s the first Orioles first-rounder born in the 2000s.
Cowser is 21 and was born March 20, 2000, meaning he’s the Orioles’ first top pick to be born after the turn of the millennium.
2018 first-round pick Grayson Rodriguez — who has since developed into baseball’s top pitching prospect, according to Baseball America — came close with his Nov. 16, 1999, birthdate.
Cowser isn’t the first Orioles draftee overall born in 2000 or later, though. Yeancarlos Lleras, the team’s sixth-round pick in 2018, was born in July 2000. He’s pitching for one of Baltimore’s Florida Complex League affiliates.