Kaleb Cowart can’t be blamed for being a little overwhelmed this summer.
The third baseman/righthander from Cook High in Adel, Ga. was the 18th overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Angels after a stellar finish to his high school career and has until Aug. 16 to decide if he is going to sign a pro contract or fulfill his commitment to Florida State.
On top of all that, while attending orientation in Tallahassee, Cowart learned he was named Baseball America’s 2010 High School Player of the Year.
“We had a great season,” Cowart said. “The team did really well. We all played great. I just went out every day and thanked God for another day out there and left everything on the field.”
Cowart is the second player out of Georgia to win the award in the past three years. His credentials are similar to those of 2008 POY-winner Ethan Martin, also a Peach State product.
Like Martin, Cowart dominated on both sides of the ball and was named a first-team All-American utility player. In 107 at-bats, Cowart hit .654 with 11 home runs, 55 runs, 16 doubles, 59 RBIs and 36 stolen bases. On the mound he went 10-1, 1.05 with one save. In 73 innings he allowed just 35 hits and 24 walks while striking out 116. His lone loss came against Calhoun (Ga.) High, a frequent state title contender.
It wasn’t the first time Coward faced the Yellow Jackets.
“He started as a freshman and every year we’ve been deep in the playoffs,” Cook head coach Bob Owsley said. “Calhoun had some guys that year and he shut them down. Right then and there I knew if he progressed, good things would happen. He’s paid his dues and gotten better every year.”
Owsley has known Cowart for several years and remembers how much he stood out from his peers when he started switch-hitting as a 12-year-old.
Cowart’s growing talent can be attributed to his dedication to baseball all year. He’s a prominent member of the East Cobb Baseball program and has traveled all over the country facing top, including the No. 2 overall pick this year, righthander Jameson Taillon.
“He’s something else,” Cowart laughed. “I got a hit off of him at the Metrodome (at the Perfect Game National Showcase) and he struck me out. I took the first pitch to see what it was like. That was the best pitch I saw. He threw a disgusting curveball and made me look dumb and then I chased a fastball out of the zone.”
Cowart also scores high marks from his head coach for how he plays the game.
“He has a competitive nature,” Owsley said. “We started six sophomores. All of them fed off him, how he attacked the competition, the intensity he played with and his love of the game.”
Training has been instrumental to Cowart’s success. During the season, Cowart avoids getting overworked. He lifts weights to keep his core strong and stay in shape. He also throws and hits every day, taking 50 cuts off the tee, works on hitting opposite field in batting practice before doing infield drills.
In the offseason, Cowart steps up his routine with heavy lifting that helps increase his lower body strength. Since it doesn’t get too cold in South Georgia, he throws long toss three or four times a week on the football field. His goal each time out is to throw through both goal posts, a distance of at least 330 feet.
Cowart says he does all of this to keep his talent growing.
“When you quit getting better, you need to stop playing,” he said.
Many scouts liked Cowart more as a pitcher, but he clearly expressed his interest to play an everyday position and hit. The Angels seemingly got a leg up in negotiations by drafting Cowart as a third baseman. Cowart’s easy 91-93 mph fastball indicates he has the arm strenght to remain at third. He has strength in his swing and good raw power.
A switch-hitting third baseman in Georgia brings the obvious comparisons to Chipper Jones—also Cowart’s favorite player—but scouts also point out the similarities to Martin and Buster Posey, a Georgia prep product who played both ways before selected fifth overall in 2008 after an outstanding career at Florida State. Martin was a third baseman who moved to the mound. Posey also had potential on the mound, but preferred to hit.
Owsley says he’s never coached a player who has an overall package like Cowart, and he has plenty of memories that remind him of that.
“He’s done a lot of good things,” Owsley said. “The best defensive play he ever made for us when he was pitching against Brooks County. The batter hit a slow roller up the third base line. He laid out and threw to the plate all in one motion to get a force out. It was a pretty amazing play. That really stands out.”
Cowart has plenty of tools to help him excel at the next level, whether it be college or pro, but he’ll be the first to admit he still has work to do.
“I need to work on getting bigger and stronger,” he said. “It’s not a bunch of kids playing anymore. It’s grown men playing.”
Cowart’s future is still up in the air. He has been a Florida State fan his entire life since he lives about 80 miles from the campus and has a strong connection with the program through the Drew family. J.D. and Stephen Drew both excelled as Seminoles and their uncle is the pastor at the church Cowart attends. The process hasn’t been easy, but he says he remains neutral when it comes to the next step.
“The draft was overwhelming and stressful at times,” Cowart said. “But something good happened out of it. I was honored to be picked by the Angels. Whatever happens, we’ll see. Either way, I’m going to be happy.”