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Orioles sign top draft pick Colton Cowser, the No. 5 overall selection

The Orioles and their top draft pick have a deal.

The team announced Saturday that it signed Sam Houston outfielder Colton Cowser, the No. 5 overall pick in last weekend’s Major League Baseball draft.

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Cowser, 21, signed for $4.9 million, below the slot value of $6,180,700. The Orioles also signed second-round pick Connor Norby, a second baseman from East Carolina, on Friday for $1.7 million, below the slot of $1.81 million recommended for the pick. The Orioles can transfer those savings on to bonuses for their other draft picks.

That was the strategy the Orioles used with No. 2 overall pick Heston Kjerstad in 2020, an approach that executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said before the draft can be “a big part of gleaning the most value from the draft.”

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Elias said after Sunday’s pick that bonus considerations were secondary.

“Look, whatever we end up signing him for, we’ll sign him for and obviously from the club’s side, you want to preserve as much capital for the rest of the draft as possible,” Elias said. “But you take the guy that you want to take, and that’s what we did here. This was our player at five, and so that’s the most important thing.”

By taking Cowser, the Orioles selected 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 Elias. Each ranks among the Orioles’ top four prospects.

Cowser hit .374/.490/.680 with 16 home runs and 17 steals in 2021 to earn Southland Conference Player of the Year honors and was a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the nation’s top amateur player. 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.

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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. MLB.com rated Cowser as the draft’s 10th-best prospect, while Baseball America had him at No. 11, The Athletic at No. 14 and FanGraphs at No. 6.

“It’s a dream come true,” Cowser said after a watch party in his hometown of Cypress, Texas. “I’ve dreamed about this and my family has invested a lot in me, and sacrificed a lot of time. To be able to spend it with friends and family means the world to me.”

The rest of the Orioles’ draft picks have until Aug. 1 to sign.

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