Giants Top 50: #29 - Adam Cowart

It's hard not to get attention when your pro debut results in a 1.08 ERA, and when you win 10 games in 15 starts. It's even harder when you're an unorthodox pick out of the 35th round. But for all the statistical glory, big questions remain about the unique pitcher as to whether he's a ‘real' prospect. #29 of the Giants Top 50 is Adam Cowart!

Date of Birth: 08/18/1983 Position: P Height: 6'2" Weight: 190 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 35th Round (#1046 Overall) of the 2006 Draft
2006 Stats
Salem-Keizer - Short-A 10 1 1.08 15 15 0 83.1 51 13 10 2 8 55 .178 2.81

Maybe some people will never be convinced.

Baseball is full of players who ‘shouldn't' succeed, but do at one level or another.  San Francisco Giants fans had one for years, in soft-tossing lefty Kirk Rueter.  His detractors hailed Rueter's collapse into retirement as justification of their criticism; never mind that he became the winningest southpaw in franchise history with his lack of ‘stuff' before his ‘collapse.'

Do the Giants have another such player in Adam Cowart?

Cowart's 2006 stats were the stuff of legend.  1.08 ERA, winning his first 10 decisions and only losing in his final start of the regular season, and he capped off the year with a complete game shutout in the Northwest League Championship Series.  It was the kind of debut a lot of first round picks dream of; it seemed like a shock for a 35th rounder.  Cowart raked in post-season awards, including being named a Northwest League All-Star, a Topps' All-Star, a BaseballAmerica All-Star, and the MiLB Short-Season Starting Pitcher of the Year.

Despite all the performance, Cowart doesn't sound like much of a prospect if you read several prominent publications that cover the minors.  BaseballAmerica's Aaron Fitt said that he placed Cowart on BA's Top 20 Prospect list for the Northwest League only as a ‘nod to his incredible season,' while Baseball Prospectus compared his season to other experienced college pitchers who thrived in Short-Season, but have struggled since.  Both refer to him being a more experienced college pitcher facing lesser competition, and his lack of ‘stuff.'

So what will Cowart become?

Before answering that, one has to look at what makes Cowart so unique.  Cowart does throw with little velocity, hitting the low-80's with his fastball.  He also throws a big looping slider that moves more like a curve, and has impeccable control.  But his uniqueness comes from his motion.  Cowart is a true sidearmer, and has a motion that defies conventional pitching mechanics.

Cowart's motion stems from a recurring staph infection in his left knee when he was just starting college.  That led to coaches working with him to change his motion to take pressure off his left leg, what would be his plant leg.  The result is a motion where he barely steps, if at all.

When Cowart comes set, he is crouched and bent over at the waist, with his left leg extended in front of him on the mound, about where the plant foot would come down from a right handed pitcher with a conventional motion.  When he throws, he barely lifts up the leg, doing more of a toe-tap than anything, as he leans up to throw sidearm.

Teammate John Odom has dubbed the motion ‘Crouching Tiger.'

This motion is definitely a part of his success.  The deception and inability of hitters to pick up the ball or adjust to his timing certainly helped his numbers.  The motion also is why he has such low velocity.  Without a step, Cowart has almost no momentum to deliver into his throw, and that places him in a natural disadvantage when compared to every other pitcher.

Cowart's motion has one other unique side-effect.  Cowart's lack of momentum results in him coming off the mound in a more controlled motion, and thus he comes down from the mound square and ready to play defense.  As noted, his motion makes him a severe groundball pitcher (he had a 2.81 Groundout-to-Flyout ratio).  Cowart is a superb fielder, and his only error committed was on a pickoff throw.

Cowart's detractors say that as he progresses to higher levels, more experienced hitters won't be as deceived by his motion, and his sub-par velocity will be very hittable.  They point to his low strikeout rate as a weakness, and his experience as a pitcher being one of the biggest reasons he dominated in Salem-Keizer and that it won't be an advantage later.

Is that true?  Cowart was obviously hardly healthy for his entire college career, so he didn't get as much experience as he might have, and so that wasn't as much of an advantage as some might suggest.  Also, none of the former Short-Season dominators that BP noted were sidearmers, and that is something that Cowart won't lose.

This, of course, doesn't mean that these prognosticators are wrong.  It does mean that Cowart is a very unique case with whom using previous success-and-fail cases doesn't take into account very relevant qualities, such as Cowart's motion.

One other concern that has not been brought up often is Cowart's health.  The staph infection is not likely to be a concern, but his arm health definitely could be.  Without the benefit of a step and momentum, his throwing motion is all shoulder, which could lead to serious health problems, particularly of the rotator cuff variety.   Cowart's ability to go deep into games is a question as it is, as he finished 7 innings only once in the regular season, although he did have the complete game shutout.

It's not as impossible as some think for Cowart to stick as a starter.  Starting pitchers have survived on less than unorthodox deliveries in the past.  However, it's not unlikely at all that Cowart could move to relief.  BA and BP both suggest his future is as a righty-on-righty reliever, but a relief role for him need not be so limited.  Cowart did allow a .192 BAA to left-handed batters compared to just .178 against right-handers, but right-handers actually slugged higher (.251 to .232).

At the end of the season, Short-Season is still a very hard place to project anyone from.  And it becomes a place where questions about velocity are very appropriate.  But those are questions that can only be answered by future performance, and not predictors.  His success, or failure, is far from certain.  Cowart will get that chance to prove himself.

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