The next Chipper Jones? Cook High pitcher throws 97 mph, but wants to play 3B

The No. 1 pitching prospect from a Georgia high school for the major-league baseball draft would prefer not to pitch in the pros.

What would you advise to Kaleb Cowart?

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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.

$tarting pitcher or 3B (Emrich Photography)

$tarting pitcher or 3B (Emrich Photography)

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:

Woodward CF Delino DeShields (The first Georgia HS player to be drafted???)

Marietta CF Chevez Clarke (The five-tool player? Enough power?)

North Gwinnett 3B Chris Hawkins (Mr. Clutch with 32-game hitting streak to end year)

Wheeler OF Dale Carey (Another first-rounder from Cobb school?)

Collins Hill LHP James Buckelew (The next American Idol? Just gets people out)

18 comments Add your comment

Marolivina

June 2nd, 2010
12:28 am

Let him play third if that is what he wants. Infielders need big arms as well.

Bulldog38

June 2nd, 2010
7:48 am

If Frank Wren is as smart as I think he is, then you are looking at the Braves first round pick. He REALLY IS the next Chipper Jones! A switch hitting power hitter with speed and a great arm! As a high school senior, this kid is already better than any other third base option the Braves have in their minor league system to replace Chipper. It’s a no brainer.

bravesfan

June 2nd, 2010
8:38 am

The Braves lost their first round pick #20 to the Boston Red Sox (the spot Cowart is projected to go) in the signing of Billy Wagner…..

Shawn

June 2nd, 2010
8:53 am

Jeremy Williams was named National Coach of the Year last night.

Bill

June 2nd, 2010
8:58 am

Thats just great “bravesfan”.

Best of luck to Cowart and all the Georgia Boys. Maybe Braves will find a falling star?

Todd

June 2nd, 2010
1:44 pm

If he has good grades, then college needs to be his next step. Education should be number one on a teenager’s agenda.
By committing to be a position player, it will affect his draft status because the only thing he has on his resume is cranking high school AA pitching (not that great). He has no leavage in negotiating with MLB executives because he’s been up against poor competition. He does have the tools to make it in the MLB, but I can say the same thing about to the 270 kids that will be drafted with him. FSU is his best option in my opinion, Get a good education and dominate the collegiate level and be a top 10 pick in the 2013 draft as a position player

dobearsbare

June 2nd, 2010
3:55 pm

Todd, with respect, Cowart has to make up his own mind. If he’s looking at multi-millions in signing bonus money, he’d be foolish not to take it. The opportunity to go to college will always be there. And, classroom education is not the only kind of education there is. Living in the minor leagues won’t teach him biology or algebra, but he’s likely to learn Spanish and he’ll get real-world learning.

As for bonus requirements, here’s a formula: Take the value of his scholarship. What’s it cost to go to FSU? $50,000? Maybe that’s low, but it’s a nice round number for the sake of argument. Multiply that times four years, and you get $200,000. That’s likely his starting point as far as having the signing bonus pull him away from college. Even if it’s twice that, he’s likely to get more if he goes anywhere in the top five rounds. First round? Sayonara, Seminoles.

Delbert D.

June 2nd, 2010
5:05 pm

Remember what’s his name? The guy for the Cardinals that pitched for a few years and then moved to the outfield?

Michael Carvell

June 2nd, 2010
5:05 pm

@Todd, POOR COMPETITION? WHAT??? Cowart threw against many of the USA’s top hitters during last summer and fall while playing for East Cobb (club baseball) and appearing in several elite showcases.

Michael Carvell

June 2nd, 2010
5:17 pm

@Bulldodg38, I don’t think as highly of FRANK WREN after he gave away the future of the Braves organization for rent-a-player Mark Teixeira. With that said, I think the Braves jump all over Kaleb Cowart but he is unlikely to fall to second round.

Dawgdad

June 2nd, 2010
5:45 pm

Draft him as a position player, let him try it for two or three years and if he doesn’t make it convert him to pitching. Happens a great deal in the minors. Kris Medlen was a shortstop, Tim Hudson was an outfielder at Auburn, and many other examples are out there.

Dawgdad

June 2nd, 2010
5:48 pm

Micah Owens was a position player at GT as well as pitcher. As it turns out he might have been a better pro had he left the pitching alone. His bat/ like Rich Ankiels, if probably better than his pitching skills.

Trace

June 2nd, 2010
8:06 pm

John Schuerholz was the GM that traded for Teixeira. Not Frank Wren. Wren’s done an excellent job rebuilding the mess that Schuerholz left him.

olhornetguard

June 2nd, 2010
10:26 pm

Todd, he graduated with honors May 21, the grades are there. I’ve watched him play ball since t-ball and he has spent the night at my house on several occasions as my son and him are good friends. Last week during the Blessed Trinity game a Cubs scout (no pun intended) sitting next to me, called someone on his blackberry and called him THE TRUTH!! He has so much talent its scary.By, the way, most sport fans agree that AAAAA and AA schools have the toughest opponents in the state. He will go early next week, too bad FSU.

Michael Carvell

June 3rd, 2010
1:23 am

@Trace, you are correct about Braves GM for TEX trade. Thanks.

Hammer22

June 3rd, 2010
12:34 pm

I’d killed for talents like that.

cheerhornet

June 4th, 2010
6:44 pm

@Todd, the competition was there! The hornets beat a AAAAA school this season, and lost to another by one run. This past summer he also pitched in the East v.s West game. He has played with and against some of the best. Believe it or not, he simply loves baseball! Yeah the money is great but it couldnt have happened to a more deserving family like his. About his education, he did graduate with honors and also won a honorable award within the county. I believe he will make the best decision for himself. Hopefully people will respect his choice, whatever it may be.

Tripp

June 6th, 2010
5:06 pm

Kaleb graduated with a 95.7 GPA. This past week he was named the Gatorade State and NATIONAL baseball player of the year. Kaleb is very grounded for a guy that just turned 18 last week, very respectful with strong christian and family values. As his principal said, “Kaleb is what you call a 5 tool player,5 tool student, and has a 5 tool character”.
Kaleb loves the Braves and would sign with them in a heartbeat if the chance arose, but as the Braves scout told me “Kaleb won’t be there when we get our pick”.