The No. 1 pitching prospect from a Georgia high school for the major-league baseball draft would prefer not to pitch in the pros.
Cook High’s Kaleb Cowart, whose fastball has been clocked at 97 mph, is projected by several draft analysts to go as high as the first round Monday. In the college ranks, Georgia Tech pitcher Deck McGuire likely will be selected within the first 10 picks.
What’s the deal with Cowart, a rocket-armed right-hander? Why does he have low interest in a pitching career? The explanation is surprisingly simple — and refreshing.
“I want to play baseball every day,” Cowart said. “I’d much rather play in the field every day than pitch once every five days.
“I really enjoy baseball and have a passion for the game. I want to be out there every game, in the middle of the action … not sitting there and watching.”
Cowart’s revelation has stirred debates in the front offices of numerous major-league teams, discussions about whether to draft him as an infielder or a pitcher. Cowart won rave reviews from scouts as a switch-hitting third baseman.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder hasn’t ruled out pitching again, nor is he making any demands. However, it appears that a major-league team would have a better chance of luring Cowart away from his baseball scholarship to Florida State by drafting him as a position player.
“I really tried to prove myself as a hitter and a fielder this season because that’s how I’d rather go in the draft,” Cowart said. “If everything was equal, that would be my preference.
“However, if a team takes me as a hitter and it doesn’t work out, then I could always pitch.”
Over the past two years, Cowart has been a one-man tourist attraction in Adel, located 35 miles from the Florida border. Dozens of baseball scouts have observed Cook’s practices and games, aiming radar guns at the hometown hero who can hurl a baseball nearly 100 mph.
Cook coach Bob Owsley laughs when he recalls Cook’s preseason scrimmage against Crisp County. There were heavy rains the night before, so Owsley instructed the team to warm up in the school’s small indoor facility. Because of the tight space, only six scouts were given permission to watch.
“By the time I finished talking to the boys, I turned around and there were 33 scouts in there with us,” Owsley said. “That’s the kind of pressures that Kaleb has dealt with for two seasons, but it has been a blessing. [He] has really kept his head together and focused on our team.”
On Tuesday, Cook dropped an 8-2 decision to Calhoun in the deciding game of the Class AA state championship series in baseball.
Cowart made tremendous strides at third base with his fielding, and he has perhaps the state’s strongest arm. Cowart hits about equally from both sides of the plate and for both average and power. He finished the season with a 10-1 pitching record with an 1.05 ERA while striking out 116 batters in 73 innings. At the plate, Cowart batted .654 with 11 home runs, 59 RBIs and 36 stolen bases in 36 attempts.
“He’s every bit as good as advertised,” said Blessed Trinity coach Andy Harlin, who witnessed Cowart launch a 450-foot homer against his team in the semifinals.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that arm or how well he swings the baseball bat. On defense, he has great hands as a corner infielder. Pitcher or infielder [for the draft]? I like him at both.”
Cowart says he’s humbled by the draft predictions and dreams about playing in the majors. He’s also a lifelong Seminoles fan. Other than his position preference, what else would encourage Cowart to bypass college? Does he have to be drafted in the first round? Is there a target for bonus money?
“My family and I are going to discuss that later this week,” Cowart said. “Whatever God wants me to do, that’s what will happen.”
Note: According to major-league scouts, this projects to be one of the strongest classes for Georgia high school players in years. Here are some other top prospects for the the June 7 draft: