Around the batting practice cage stood a quartet of batters who had themselves a busy All-Star week, two each right- and left-handed, all of them donning orange.
There were the two who had already arrived as Orioles, and the two who were taking their earliest steps toward doing so. Friday at Camden Yards, the Orioles welcomed their top two picks from this month’s Major League Baseball draft in No. 5 overall pick Colton Cowser and second-rounder Connor Norby. When they took their first swings at Camden Yards, they did so sharing a batting practice group with All-Star Cedric Mullins and Home Run Derby runner-up Trey Mancini.
“It’s a day they’ll never forget,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said, “taking BP in a big league stadium with the big league club.”
Before they changed into shorts, Cowser and Norby wore slacks and were semi-formally introduced, with executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias greeting them on the warning track and posing for photos as he provided them with their first Orioles jerseys. Soon after, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, a member of the Orioles’ broadcast team, introduced himself by mentioning that he used to pitch for the franchise.
The pair had already started their professional careers, having signed with the organization and headed to the team’s complex in Sarasota, Florida, before returning to Baltimore for the festivities Friday ahead of the Orioles’ first home game of the second half.
“It’s a lot of excitement,” Norby said. “It’s kind of been hectic just the last few weeks for sure, getting down to Sarasota and everything, getting settled then coming back. But it’s an honor to be here. I know me and Colton were really excited to come back.”
Norby said they’ll return to Sarasota, eventually getting into some Florida Complex League games before potentially ending the year with Low-A Delmarva, depending on how their bodies have handled their first foray into pro ball.
Both signed for under the set slot for their picks, allowing the organization to give overslot deals to other draftees. They did so Friday; among 14 draft picks whose signings were announced, eighth-round pick Creed Willems, a high school catcher from Texas, signed for $1 million, according to a source with direct knowledge of the agreement, far above his pick’s slot of $187,700. The Orioles’ remaining unsigned draftees are sixth-round pick Collin Burns, seventh-round pick Connor Pavolony, 14th-round pick Daniel Lloyd and 20th-round pick Trendon Craig.
Cowser, an outfielder out of Sam Houston, said being the fifth overall pick hadn’t settled in yet, but believed it would once he returned to Sarasota and was able to begin a routine. As Elias did after he was drafted, Cowser said he sees himself as a center fielder capable of playing a corner spot if needed and as a player who can make an impact as much with his bat as with his glove and speed.
“It’s just kind of how I was raised to play the game,” Cowser said. “Kind of an old school player, being able to contribute on both sides of the ball. Say you’re not having a great day at the plate, and you go out there in the field and you take away some outs. I think there’s always ways to contribute in the game of baseball.”
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Norby agreed, and that’s why, despite playing exclusively on the dirt and mostly second base at East Carolina, he said the player he most models his game after is All-Star Whit Merrifield, who plays both second and the outfield for the Kansas City Royals. He’s open to third base and shortstop, too.
“I just bring a lot of fire,” Norby said. “I play hard all the time. I can do everything. I consider myself kind of like a jack of all trades in a sense. I can do everything and I want to be good at everything.”
He brings plenty with his bat, too. He was the NCAA hits leader and batted .415. But the stat means little to him.
“I think it’s evil,” Norby said, “because it really doesn’t dictate you, as a hitter in a sense. I was just trying to have as many quality at-bats, hit as many balls as hard as I could. Batting average is just the side effect of doing those two things.”
Both he and Cowser tried to do the latter during their batting practice sessions Friday, joking with each other that they would be disappointed if they didn’t hit at least one ball over the fence. They both managed to at least once, with Norby hitting a wall-scraper to left and Cowser sending a ball out to right-center field.
After watching Friday’s game with their families, their next step is to return to Sarasota, hoping to repeat those feats at Camden Yards again soon.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jon Meoli contributed to this article.