The Valdosta Daily Times
When the Baltimore Ravens secured their 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s Super Bowl, football season officially came to an end. Up next: Spring Training and the start of another baseball season.
As the 2013 season approaches, Cook High graduate Kaleb Cowart, a member of the Los Angeles Angels’ organization, has set lofty goals for himself, as he looks to continue his way towards a debut at the Major League level.
“I leave next Monday for big league camp,” Cowart said. “My goal is to start this year in (Class) AA and move my way up.”
Selected by the Angels with the 18th overall pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Amateur Draft, Cowart, the 2010 Gatorade High School Baseball National Player of the Year, signed a seven-figure signing bonus with the organization in August of that year. He played in the Arizona League and the Pioneer League that year, taking a total of just 26 at-bats.
In 2011, Cowart spent the entire year in the Pioneer League, as a member of the Orem Owls, a rookie affiliate of the Angels’ organization. He hit .283 in 72 games played, blasting seven home runs and driving in 40 runs.
The following year — last year — was Cowart’s most successful season. He played 66 games with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the former Class A affiliate of the Angels, and 66 games with the Inland Empire 66ers, the Class A Advanced affiliate of the Angels.
After hitting .293 with nine home runs and posting a .479 slugging percentage with Cedar Rapids, Cowart was called up to Inland Empire, located in San Bernardino, Calif.
“This past year, I had a good year. It helped a lot,” Cowart said. “I proved a lot to people that I could hit at a high level. I still have work to do, but this last year was big.”
Upon joining Inland Empire, Cowart hit .259 (68 hits in 263 at-bats), seven home runs, drove in 49 runs and pounded out 15 doubles and a career-high four triples with Cedar Rapids.
With his success in 2012, Cowart was selected as a Midseason All-Star in the Midwest League, an AFL Rising Star and a MiLB Organization All-Star.
Now, as the 2013 season approaches, Cowart says he is excited about the possibilities that await him in the Angels’ organization, and at spring training in Arizona.
When he arrives at spring training, Cowart will join an Angels team that features the likes of Albert Pujols, Vernon Wells, Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson and Jered Weaver.
The plan? Stay quiet and take lots of mental notes.
“Basically, I’m just going to keep my mouth shut and not say a lot,” Cowart said. “I plan to just listen — take in as much as I can while I am there.”
Cowart received a non-roster invite to Spring Training, meaning he could be with the team for a few days, a week or until the day before the start of the regular season.
Whenever he is sent down to the minors, assuming he will be, Cowart will likely start the year with the Arkansas Travelers, the Class AA affiliate of the Angels. From there, Cowart is just a phone call away from making his Major League debut, much like last year’s American League Rookie of the Year, Mike Trout, who took the country by storm and ended up finishing second in the Most Valuable Player voting.
“(Trout) is a great baseball player,” Cowart said. “That’d be great, but not everyone can be a Mike Trout. I just want to contribute and be a player at the Major League level.”
As for when the third baseman could receive that call to the Majors? That is an unknown variable.
“I can’t control that,” Cowart said. “I can control how I perform on the field. If that is what they want and if they feel like I can perform on the MLB level, they will call me. That isn’t my decision. That comes down to the (general manager) and the people out there.”
Until he leaves for spring training, Cowart is still working out at Cook High School in Adel. He also works out at Valdosta State’s baseball facilities.
“I love it down here,” Cowart said. “I’ll probably live here one day. It is good to be home, sleep in your own bed and eat a home cooked meal.”
One thing that makes being at home even better is the rigorous life of being on the road in the minor leagues, which is known for playing in small, half-empty stadiums, long bus trips, fast food eating and dingy hotel rooms.
“It is tough,” Cowart said. “When I was first in the Arizona League, I thought, ‘Hey, we are going to go out there and there are going to be a lot of fans.’ But not many people go to those games. There are usually like five people there and that’s usually family.
“Then when I went on to the Pioneer League, those travels are terrible. The worst in the league. Fourteen hours a night, on the bus. You eat a lot of fast food and a lot of eating out. So it makes coming home that much better.”
In reality, the tough life of being in the minor leagues can be offset by a promotion to the Major Leagues, where players fly on chartered planes, eat well-prepared meals and stay in luxurious hotels.
“That is what we are all in it for,” Cowart said. “To be able to do things like that.”