Colton Cowser’s learning experience of a 2023 season, when his major league debut didn’t go according to plan, left him plenty of work to do this winter. Part of that occurred in the space between his ears.

More crucial to establishing himself as the dangerous hitter the Orioles believe he can be, however, was the space between his body and his hands.

Cowser’s offseason swing work drew praise from manager Brandon Hyde earlier in camp and has fueled one of the club’s hottest starts to spring training with a pair of home runs and hard contact galore for one of the Orioles’ top prospects.

“There were some things that the big league staff wanted me to work on with my spacing,” Cowser told me. “It was just being consistent in my setup, because I’ve always been someone who, one day my hands are doing this, some days they’re doing this, whatever feels comfortable that day. The big focus this offseason was just finding a good consistent ground to build off of, and go from there.”

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That foundation has served him well so far, the result of a hard lesson the likes of which Cowser wasn’t expecting when he debuted for the Orioles last July. The fifth overall pick in 2021 completed a rapid ascent to the majors last summer but lasted six weeks before his demotion.

Many factors, from adjusting to less frequent playing time to the natural pursuit of results for a young player trying to make an impression, contributed to that. But, on a basic level, Cowser didn’t do what he always did best: hit fastballs.

According to MLB Statcast data on, Cowser whiffed on 29.5% of fastballs he faced and had a .209 weighted on-base average and .280 xwOBA on the pitch. Major league average on fastballs for those stats in 2023 were .346 and .350, respectively.

“What I did really well in the minor leagues was own the fastball and not really miss it, and then I got up there, you look at my swing and miss on fastballs away or outer third, even middle, those are ones I typically don’t miss,” Cowser said. “If I don’t [hit them] up there, I’m going to get exposed to even more stuff. It’s just owning the fastball, something that I need to get back to and be more consistent with — especially up there, because I think it opens up my whole other game.”

During the season, he went back to Triple-A Norfolk with a mandate to be more aggressive early in counts, particularly on off-speed pitches.

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He struck out 53 times in 155 plate appearances with a .777 OPS to end the season at Triple-A, but Cowser said the time there “showed glimpses of what I was working on, and I think that’s really beneficial as well.”

This winter Cowser was back in the Houston area working with his longtime hitting instructor, Sid Holland, who broke down Cowser’s disappointing year with him and helped focus Cowser on the Orioles’ plan for him.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Colton Cowser (17) watches his teammates from the dugout during a Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park on February 25, 2024. The Orioles beat the Pirates, 2-0, during Sunday’s game.
Cowser watches from the dugout during the Orioles' game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

His hands, and finding spacing that works for him, were their main mission.

“He’d kind of get them stuck behind himself, so we tried to create some more spacing so he can have a clearer path to the ball,” Holland said.

When Cowser skied his first home run of the spring to walk off the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, his hands were held back and level with his shoulders. They were also quieter, with less movement than he had at times in the majors last year. That home run was on a hanging off-speed pitch early in the count, measuring around 105 mph but at a steep 40-degree launch angle.

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He hit a fastball similarly hard the next day in Pittsburgh that went 407 feet and stayed in the park — at 38 degrees and 104.6 mph — then left no doubt in hitting a fastball at 105.4 mph for his second spring home run Wednesday.

Holland said: “I’ve talked with him a little bit about what’s going on this spring, and he said, ‘Man, I’m getting to pitches now that I couldn’t get to last year. Some of them are foul balls, but I feel so much better. I feel like I can get to pitches that I thought I could get to last year but wasn’t able to get to. Now, I’m getting there.’ I think he’s ready.”

In addition to that space work, Holland said, they did plenty of challenging drills and swing work that mirrored what the Orioles do in season, particularly with foam balls out of pitching machines that accentuate the spin on balls and help train hitters’ eyes and swings to deal with those. They also worked a lot on pitch shapes from left-handers.

“The book on him is left-handers and things like that,” Holland said. “It was good to see him hit a big homer against a lefty [Wednesday]. This guy can hit. It doesn’t matter what side of the mound the ball is coming from. I think he can get in his own head sometimes about that, but having done as much work as he did on shapes, right-handed and left-handed-type stuff, I think he’s more confident in what he’s doing.”

Cowser’s Orioles career has always been promising, given his broad talent set, but there’s been give and take between his natural ability to make contact and hit the ball to all fields and the Orioles’ philosophical desire for hitters to focus on pitches they can drive at high speeds and good angles.

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He’s found a balance and discovered what works best for him, but his combination of top-level exit speeds and increasing strength gives him a wide range of major league outcomes, from a table-setter at the top of the order to a feared power hitter.

Cowser heads to the dugout after striking out against the Houston Astros last season. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Within the Orioles’ developmental ranks, he’s regarded as the same player who hit home runs at 110 mph to left and right fields in the same game last May 11. His hard-hit rate in the minors climbed from 33.2% in 2022 to 47.4% at Triple-A in 2023. He wouldn’t mind bringing that on-base capability and power along with it but won’t pursue the latter if it means compromising who he is as a hitter.

“If it happens, it happens, and I think something I have been working on is consistent contact like that and more of a consistent approach,” Cowser said. “I think, when those two things align, it’s really good, and that’s kind of how I’m trying to be up there doing. I’d love to be a leadoff hitter and set the table but understand that I can still drive in runs.”

Holland believes that not only will Cowser be better for his struggles last year going forward but that he’s only scratching the surface in the majors. The Houston-based hitting instructor pointed to Astros star Jose Altuve as an example of how a player’s traits can build on one another.

“The thing that’s really good for him is that, just like Altuve when they first came up, guys like that, [Cowser is] a really good hitter first,” Holland said. “As you get older and get your grown-man strength, you can learn to hit the ball in the air. You can learn to start flighting balls better. I just think that, once he understands that he can do that, he’ll hit 25, 30 home runs a year. I think he’s going to be a good, patient-enough hitter to hit for average too. He’s going to be a dynamic player, man.”