Sam Houston State coach Jay Sirianni first noticed Colton Cowser when the young slugger came to a hitting camp in high school.

Sirianni liked Cowser’s swing and ability to make contact, but he had to grow into his body because he was a little skinny.

Cowser eventually matured, signed with Sam Houston State and became one of the most decorated players in the history of the program. The Orioles were so impressed with Cowser they selected him with the fifth overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft.

“He has a really good feel for the strike zone,” Sirianni said. “He doesn’t change a whole lot. And pitch selection, he understands the pitches he can hit really well and doesn’t really get too far outside of what we call his comfort zone. He has the ability to make hard contact more times than not. That’s kind of what makes him dangerous.”

Cowser, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound center fielder, hit .354/.460/.608 with 24 home runs from the left side of the plate in three seasons at Sam Houston State. Cowser was rated the No. 7 draft prospect by FanGraphs, No. 10 by ESPN and MLB Pipeline and No. 11 by Baseball America.

This past season as a junior, Cowser, 21, was named the Southland Conference Player of the Year, becoming the second player in Sam Houston State history to earn the honor. He also earned All-SLC First Team, SLC All-Defensive Team and SLC All-Tournament team honors, while leading the Bearkats to the SLC title game. Cowser became the first player in program history to be named a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award.

His college teammate, Jordan Cannon, is now a catcher with Low-A Delmarva after being taken by the Orioles in the 10th round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

The two friends love to bass fish, but they might have to alter that plan to rock fishing in the Maryland area.

Nonetheless, Cannon is excited about being reunited with Cowser in the Orioles’ farm system.

“It’s going to be really cool,” Cannon said. “Me and him have talked every single day since I left Sam Houston. So for us to be in the same dugout again and in the same uniform is going to be pretty awesome.

“He showed up a really good hitter. You can tell he’s always a kid that has confidence, but it was never arrogance. I took him under my wing not because he was a great baseball player and a freshman, but because he was an even better guy. Me and him have probably been best friends since his first day on campus. He does all the right things — crosses the T’s and dots his I’s — [and] takes care of his business off the field.”

Cowser is considered a natural center fielder, and that’s where he has mostly been playing in the minors to start his pro career. It remains to be seen where he’d play in the big leagues. Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins is enjoying a breakout year, earning a spot on the American League All-Star team. Mullins is under club control through 2025.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me whether [Cowser] can play center field. I’ll tell you this, I’m not going to be the guy who says he can’t,” Sirianni said. “The best thing about him is he kept getting better. He was constantly working at it. He gets really good breaks, good jumps, and takes good angles. And really his arm is probably the biggest improvement he made while he was here. His arm just kept getting stronger.”

Cowser is the highest draft pick in program history and just the second Sam Houston player selected in the first round. Glenn Wilson was taken 18th overall in 1980. Both Sirianni and Cannon expected Cowser to be a top-10 selection.

“I knew he was going to be a high pick, but I never thought he’d be a No. 5 pick,” Cannon said. “When I first started playing with him, I knew this guy was going to go high. A few draft boards came out and he was going to be a first-rounder. He was going to be a top-14 pick and I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ Looking back, you could see it. Just as a freshman there was never an arm that someone on the other team ran out there and beat him up. Never.”

In 2019, Cowser led USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team in runs with nine. He started eight of 14 games in right field. He was also named MVP of the Cuba Series after leading the team in batting (.438) and runs (six) and tying for the team lead in hits (seven) during the five-game series.

No situation was ever too big for Cowser, and he won’t be overwhelmed by the pitching at the professional level.

“His ability to handle the big moment,” Cannon said of what makes Cowser special. “He’s always been good at the big moment. You could run Texas A&M out there, a Friday night guy, and Colton is cool, calm and collected. There’s no crowd too big. No arm with too much stuff. He might get beat sometimes, but it’s never, ‘Man, that guy was way better than him.’ Tip your hat and he’ll be back in 30 minutes.”

Sirianni is confident that not only does Cowser have the physical tools to be successful as a major leaguer, he also has the mental toughness to play the game. Cowser singled and homered in his pro debut for the Orioles in the Florida Complex League Aug. 2.

The hope is that Cowser will produce throughout the minors on his way to the big leagues.

“He understands the grind,” Sirianni said. “He comes to the ballpark day in and day out the same guy. Whether he is 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, he’s not an up-and-down-type player. He’s very steady and consistent. He understands how to work. He understands what he needs to do day in and day out to stay where he’s at. Probably most importantly, he’s a good person. He’s never had a bad day. He’s a good teammate. You would never know he was going to be the fifth pick in our clubhouse. He’s one of the guys.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sam Houston State Baseball

Issue 270: August/September 2021

Todd Karpovich

See all posts by Todd Karpovich. Follow Todd Karpovich on Twitter at @toddkarpovich