Name: Collin Cowgill
Height/Weight: 5'9''/185 pounds How Acquired: Traded along with Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow on December 9, 2011. Originally drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round in 2008
The A's have long been linked to Collin Cowgill, so it was no surprise when he was included in the package of players the A's obtained for right-hander Trevor Cahill and left-hander Craig Breslow.
The A's were the first team to draft Cowgill, taking him in the 29th round in 2007 out of the University of Kentucky. It was a flier pick for the A's, as Cowgill had missed that entire season with a broken hamate bone. Before the injury, Cowgill was a player who was projected to draw interest in the top-10 rounds of the draft. He did return to the field that summer in the Cape Cod League and played well. Cowgill elected to return to college for the 2008 season in hopes of moving up in the draft.
That mission was accomplished, as Cowgill put together a standout 2008 season for the Wildcats, posting a 1170 OPS. He was selected in the fifth round by the Diamondbacks that June and signed quickly. The hot hitting Cowgill displayed with Kentucky carried over into his pro debut with short-season Yakima. He tore through the pitcher-friendly Northwest League, blasting 11 homers in only 20 games and posting a 1200 OPS. He was then promoted to Low-A South Bend, where his numbers came back to earth. In 50 games with the Silver Hawks, he had a 704 OPS and only one homer.
Despite the dip in production with South Bend, Cowgill was promoted to High-A Visalia to start the 2009 season. Another hand injury cut Cowgill's season short, however. He appeared in 61 games for the Rawhide before fracturing his hand, and he batted .277/.373/.445 with six homers and 11 stolen bases.
As with his collegiate hand injury, Cowgill was showed no ill effects from the injury the following season. He would spend all of the 2010 campaign with Double-A Mobile and he had a solid .285/.360/.464 line with 16 homers and 25 stolen bases in 131 games. He would be named to the Southern League's mid-season and post-season All-Star teams and he was sent to the Arizona Fall League that off-season.
Cowgill's rise accelerated in 2011. He was invited to big league spring training for the first time and made a strong impression on the Arizona big league coaching staff. He was assigned to Triple-A Reno and quickly became one of the Pacific Coast League's top hitters. In 98 games with the Reno Aces, Cowgill hit .354 with a .430 OBP and a .554 SLG. He hit 13 homers and stole 30 bases while driving in 70 runs. Despite spending the final few months of the season in the big leagues, Cowgill was named to the PCL's post-season All-Star team and was honored as the league's Rookie of the Year.
Cowgill made his major league debut with Arizona on July 27th. He would appear in 39 regular season games with the D-Backs. In 98 at-bats, Cowgill hit .239/.300/.304 with a homer and four stolen bases. He had one plate appearance during the Diamondbacks' five-game NLDS series and drove-in two runs with a pinch-hit single that helped Arizona force a Game Five.
It is hard to find areas of weakness in Cowgill's game. Despite being small in stature, he has hit for surprising power during his career. In four minor league seasons, he has reached double-digits in homeruns in every season except the 2009 campaign when he missed the final two months with the hand injury. Cowgill has also flashed above-average speed, swiping 72 bases in 88 chances. He has shown good strike-zone awareness, as well, posting a .383 OBP during his minor league career with 174 walks against 263 strike-outs.
Defensively, Cowgill's speed and an above-average throwing arm have allowed him to play all three outfield positions. Like A's Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson and current A's outfield prospect Jeremy Barfield, Cowgill is among that rare set of players who hits right-handed but throws left-handed.
Despite his solid overall skillset, Cowgill has rarely been given the benefit of the doubt by talent evaluators, primarily because of his size. Most scouts view Cowgill as a fourth outfielder at the major league level, someone with enough skills to contribute on a limited basis, but not a player a team would want to count on day-in and day-out.
There is value in having a fourth outfielder with Cowgill's speed and ability to hit for power, but there is also the chance that he will exceed those expectations and establish himself as a major league regular. In many ways, Cowgill's profile is similar to former A's prospect Aaron Cunningham's, although Cowgill is a much better defensive player and a more patient hitter than Cunningham was while with Oakland. Cowgill has also reminded some scouts of former A's outfielder Eric Byrnes, both for Cowgill's all-out style of play and his overall skill-set. Cowgill doesn't have Byrnes' raw speed or his size, but he does have a more under-control approach to playing defense.
Barring a barrage of outfield acquisitions over the next two months, the A's will likely be giving Cowgill every opportunity to win their starting centerfield job coming out of spring training. With Jermaine Mitchell likely to miss at least part of the spring with a knee injury and with Ryan Sweeney's own history of knee problems, Cowgill and Jai Miller are the only two pure centerfield options on the A's current 40-man roster.
Cowgill's speed and ability to get on-base make him a strong candidate to hit second in the A's line-up behind lead-off hitter Jemile Weeks and would give the A's three starters with the ability to steal at least 20 bases in the season (Weeks, Cowgill and shortstop Cliff Pennington).
Assuming Cowgill does win the A's centerfield spot, he will need to play well early in the season in order to keep Oakland from being tempted to try top prospects Grant Green and Michael Choice in that position later in the year. Cowgill will turn 26 in May, so this is his year to make his mark at the big league level if he hopes to carve out a long career as a starter.