June 7, 2010; The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim call the name of a young man that brings excitement to all who hear it. Just five days prior to his name being called, the young man had turned 18-years-old, and would soon attain the status of "top prospect" from professional analyst.
Things were going fine for this young man, actually, great. He was excelling at every stage of the minor leagues, showing that he had the potential to be a large part of the Angels future success. All those who were excited before began to become more excited, and tell more people of the young man and potential he had.
Then, in 2013, the young man becomes a member of the Double-A affiliate of the Angels. He's 20-years-old, in a league where the average age is 24.5. To say he's a boy among men isn't an overwhelming comment. Facing competition with experience well beyond his years, everything begins to fall apart for the young man.
So, the next year, the young man begins his season with the same affiliate, but with a year's more experience. Things once again fall apart, and the young man who brought excitement now brings criticism to his name. Fans want to see him moved to a new position, and organization members have verdicts of what they'll allow under a certain amount of time. All the while, the young man is still just that, a man, with emotions and feelings, and a personality, taking in all the criticism when he used to take in all the excitement.
This is a story about Kaleb Cowart.
"Sometimes, I think it's okay to take a step backwards to take three steps forward, and I think that's what the ultimate goal is."
These comments came from Cowart at the beginning of this current season, after he'd been assigned to the Inland Empire 66ers, High-A affiliate of the Angels. It was a step below Double-A where he'd spent the past two seasons, which caused some to ask the question, "Do you still believe in Kaleb Cowart? Despite it being a step backwards, it would become one of the largest steps in Cowart's career.
It wasn't an immediate fix though. Cowart struggled for the first month of the season and into the second, as he was batting .163 with a .492 OPS in his first 25 games. In a last ditch effort to keep Cowart as a position player, signs were beginning to show that the former talent had lost his touch, and would possibly be reverted back to his pitching days, where he possessed a 95 MPH fastball.
"You struggle for two years. There's been times where pitching has creeped in and you think about it. Right now, I'm focusing on hitting, I still want to hit. I still want to be a player and get better and progress and I feel really good right now."
Maybe a second month would see some change? No. Two months into the season, Cowart had seen little progress, and was batting just above the Mendoza Line at .205. He had walked 17 times and struck out 40 times in 192 plate appearances.
So now what? It's two months into the season and the progress that was supposed to be showing hasn't, and instead is a decreasing effort. Things are headed downhill, and downhill fast. Was this the end of a former talent not being able to put the pieces together, only to begin his career as a pitcher with some raw potential?
Cowart was looking for something, anything, to turn his career around. He was putting in the work, but something was missing. Then came on the last night of May, just two days before he would turn 23-years of age. He had texted the same thing over and over to the same person, but on this night, it meant more than ever.
Cowart texted his hitting coach, Brenton Del Chiaro, asking if he could come over and talk. This was a common occurrence as Cowart and Del Chiaro lived in the same complex in Redlands, California. The conversation that night at 2am, as both referred to, went something like this.
"Look man, this isn't working. This isn't what I want to be doing to try and straighten out my career." - Cowart
"In 2012 and 2013, you had a tremendous Spring Training. What were you doing?" - Del Chiaro
"Let's look it up on MLB.com." - Cowart
"Do you already have it?" - Del Chiaro
"I look at it every night." - Cowart
In the early parts of the morning, hitting coach and player watched swings from Cowart's early career, and it didn't take long for Del Chiaro to see the talent and change that had occurred over the years with his player. Kaleb Cowart was not the same player at the plate in 2015 that he was in 2012 and 2013 when he brought all kinds of excitement to those who saw him.
"I was astonished to see what his swing looked like then to what it was at the start of this season," said Del Chiaro. "I said, 'Kaleb, we have to go back to that. You looked free and easy. There's some authority, some smoothness to the swing. We have to go back to that."
After countless work in the cage, just trying to get and give a feel for what a swing is like, and working on mechanics, all the focus changed to get away from the new and back to the old. Del Chiaro helped get Cowart's hands higher and out away from the body more. Maybe most importantly, a slight leg kick was added to Cowart's game.
"I used to get my foot down down really early, like, really early," said Cowart. "I thought it had to be before the ball was coming out of the pitcher's hand. That's what you try for a little while, because I was so tired of being late and that made me even more late. I had my foot down, and I still wasn't on time doing that. So, I incorporated more of a leg kick and I've been on time more often."
The leg kick added rhythm to Cowart's game, something that was missing. Getting his foot down early created a double toe tap which caused poor positioning to hit. So, you found the flaw and are working to fix it, what's next?
"We had talked about it that morning at 2am, came to the ballpark early and went out to the cage and worked on it," said Del Chiaro. "He hit on the field and I said, 'okay, it's up to you if you're feeling comfortable enough to take it into the game tonight.' To his credit, and courage, he took it into the game facing a guy throwing 93 to 95, and tried to do it."
The results of that game saw Cowart go 1-for-3 with a walk, all of which used his new stance. Standing taller in the box, hands higher and away from the body, and the new leg kick.
"The four plate appearances, he did it, and you could just tell that he felt really comfortable doing it," beamed Del Chiaro.
It's all fixed, so when do the results begin to show? Maybe it would take time to adjust to the old stance and an adjustment you haven't been used to in quite some time. In the case of Kaleb Cowart, that was not anywhere close to the scenario.
Over his next six games, Cowart went 11-for-20 with seven doubles, four walks, and six runs batted in. Despite it being small sample size, obviously something had changed and been working.
Due to an injury at the big league level, the team had to reach to the minor league system and pluck Kyle Kubitza from Triple-A Salt Lake, leaving a hole at third base with the Triple-A affiliate. Instead of calling names of players who were on the Double-A roster, the Angels called the same name they called on June 7, 2010. Kaleb Cowart was about to board a flight headed for Salt Lake, Utah, to play for the Angels Triple-A affiliate for the first time.
At first, it may have seemed temporary. However, when Kubitza came back to Salt Lake from the big club, Cowart was batting .308 with a .961 OPS. There were no signs that he was over matched or overwhelmed by the tougher competition, and it became very evident that Cowart was developing just as well, if not better, in Triple-A.
"I got back to my approach that I had when I was playing early in my career," said Cowart. "I'm walking a lot more, seeing a lot more pitches, controlling the strike zone. That's helped me more than my stance. That's something that improves every night whether I get a hit or not."
Since June 12, when Cowart put on a Bees uniform for the first time and played in a game, he is batting .326 with a .894 OPS, as well as 19 extra-base hits and 37 runs batted in in 50 games.
"It's great!" exclaimed Cowart. "I can't really put it into words. You're happy having success no matter what league you're in."
So, is the Kaleb Cowart we're seeing now the Kaleb Cowart we were expecting back in 2010 when his name was first called?
"I don't know how much it could get better," said Del Chiaro. "Maybe the power for home runs will come into play, but the fact is, you always saw the bat speed, you always saw the natural ability and strength in the hands. It was just how can he get himself into better position to hit and be successful."
In video games, you're given the opportunity to quit the game and restart, or just turn off the system you have and restart from the beginning. In real life, you rarely ever get that opportunity. The Angels gave Cowart one chance to hit the "restart" button. His former hitting coach was ecstatic about the opportunity given to Cowart, and how he responded with the chance to his the "restart" button on life.
"I told him he is so lucky to go a re-do," said Del Chiaro. "He didn't understand what I meant, so I told him that we as coaches - if we could take what we learn and go back and use it, we'd all be Major League All-Stars. Well, he had that opportunity to do that and sit here and go experience Double-A, with better talent and better pitching, and come back here with not as much talent and use it to gain some confidence, which he did. He got a re-do which is great because 23, he's in Triple-A, and to be honest with you, he's right on track."
Between the text messages and phone calls and time in the cage and additions to his game, Kaleb Cowart is now setting himself up for a career in Major League Baseball. He's had to deal with high's and low's, most recently, heavy criticism from professionals who had written him off. Even at times, this included those professionals within the Angels Front Office.
"People just looked at it mentally as there's so much failure that it was a fatal flaw, and he wasn't going to be able to rebound and this was a last ditch effort," said Del Chiaro. "For him to be able to do what he's done and overcome it mentally, it's a huge success story. You don't deal with that much failure and then come back and rebound like he has. I just want people to know that he gets all the credit. He had two years of just complete misery and failure. He put in the work, he listened and he swung the bat and he should deservedly-so, get all the credit."
Kaleb Cowart is back on track, with some help from Brenton Del Chiaro, and some video on MLB.com at 2am, you could be looking at the future at third base for the Los Angeles Angels. The best part? Kaleb is having fun playing baseball again. The misery is gone. According to coaches, fans, and Inland Empire 66ers Play-by-Play Broadcaster, Steve Wendt, you can see him "having fun" and "smiling" every time he goes out to play the sport that took him from the lowest of low's, back up to the highest of high's.
"It's always special for a coach when you feel that you've reached a player to help them succeed. For me, that's the most rewarding thing. To see the smile come back on his face, the joy in playing the game and just his natural talent actually come out and succeed, that's the most rewarding thing."
Taylor Blake Ward is a Senior Publisher for Scout.com, and can be found on Twitter, @TaylorBlakeWard.