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OC Register: Kaleb Cowart returns to Angels to take his shot as a two-way player


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TEMPE, Ariz. >> It took a while, but Kaleb Cowart is finally right where he wanted to be nearly a decade ago.

Cowart arrived in the Angels clubhouse on Tuesday to begin pursuing the dream of being a two-way player in the major leagues, something that he would have wanted to try when he was a coveted high school player in 2010.

Cowart said the big league teams that talked to him before the draft were split on whether he should pitch or play the infield, but back then trying to do both wasn’t an option.

“It wasn’t around until Shohei came through,” said Cowart, who was claimed on waivers by the Angels on Saturday. “He kind of opened up some doors for a lot of guys that are able to do some things like this.”

Shohei Ohtani, of course, made a splash in his rookie year in the majors by starring as a pitcher and a hitter for the Angels.

As Cowart was watching that, while enduring another season of bouncing between Triple-A and the majors and struggling to find consistency at the plate, he began to think maybe it was worth a shot.

Cowart, 26, suggested to the organization that he begin working out over the winter as a pitcher.

“Anytime you can make yourself more versatile, that’s a huge opportunity,” Cowart said. “Whether it’s me coming out of the ‘pen or playing some defense and then pitching, whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it.”

The Angels were open to having Cowart try pitching, but they wanted to give him the chance to do it in the minors, so they placed him on waivers. The Seattle Mariners claimed him in December. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto had been the Angels’ GM when Cowart was struggling in the minors and the discussion first began about moving him to the mound.

The Mariners planned to try to Cowart as a two-way player, but they lost him on waivers to the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers, Cowart said, had preferred him as a pitcher coming out of high school.

Cowart spent most of the first weeks of spring training with the Tigers working out as a pitcher, including throwing a couple live batting practice sessions.

“It was different at first, just trying to remember how I used to do it, how things work,” Cowart said. “But I’ve got a few ‘pens under my belt now, and it feels pretty good.”

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters that he was encouraged by what he’d seen from Cowart, and disappointed that the Angels claimed him.

Cowart said he’s been throwing his fastball in the low 90s, with a cutter, a curve ball and a splitter.

On his first day back with the Angels, Cowart exchanged hugs and handshakes with longtime teammates thrilled to have him back.

“It was disappointing (to leave),” Cowart said. “I had been here my whole career and was very familiar with everything. I had been an Angel since Day 1. It’s an emotional rollercoaster to have the offseason I had, the spring I had, but I’m happy to be back with these guys.”

Cowart headed straight for the batting cage on Tuesday morning, as he’s trying to refine a swing that so far has produced a .177 average in 345 major league at-bats.

He’s played defense at third at an elite level, while also learning to play the other three infield positions and the corner outfield spots.

His locker is filled with different gloves, and now he’s adding something new as the latest Angels’ two-way player.

Besides Ohtani, the Angels converted outfielder-first baseman Jared Walsh to a two-way player over the winter.

While Walsh — who is Cowart’s friend from their days growing up in Georgia — still profiles as a potential big league hitter who can pitch, the Angels aren’t sure yet how Cowart fits.

Most of his spring is going to be focused on pitching. Cowart is out of options, so he’d have to clear waivers if the Angels wanted to get him some work in the minors. So far he’s been on waivers three times and been claimed each, but as rosters get more crowded closer to opening day, he might be able to slip through.

Cowart has no preconceived idea for how he’d like to be used, but he’d like to keep pitching and hitting.

“I would love to do the two-way thing,” he said. “I think it’s awesome. Whatever role helps this team win, I’m good for.”


Ohtani was scheduled to take 35 swings off a tee, an increased total, as well as stand in to track pitches in batting practice…

Matt Harvey was scheduled to throw live batting practice for the first time this spring. Harvey is behind the other pitchers because he missed a few days with a strained glute. He could be scheduled next to pitch in a Cactus League game…

Zack Cozart, who missed Monday’s game because of a sore shoulder, was scheduled to take batting practice on Tuesday…

Andrelton Simmons, who didn’t play Monday because of a tight trapezius muscle, was improved. Manager Brad Ausmus said he’s expected to play on Wednesday…

Griffin Canning, the Angels top pitching prospect, will make his Cactus League debut on Wednesday, sometime after Trevor Cahill starts the game. Canning may get a chance to face Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado, who worked out with him a few times in Southern California over the winter.

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