If you’ve been a regular reader here at Rising Apple, you’re very aware of how much the entire staff likes Collin Cowgill. When Sandy Alderson completed the trade to acquire him from the Oakland A’s over the winter, he immediately started singing his praise for how he plays the game. When this transaction became official, the only thing I really knew about Cowgill was that he had a great name, and I was really hoping Sandy was right in his evaluation. So far (including spring training), the outfielder is looking like he could end up being one of the best trades from this past offseason.
Before pitchers and catchers reported in Port St. Lucie a couple months ago, we were all hoping the Mets would be able to land then-free agent Michael Bourn to help the outfield. All other attempts to gain a proven outfielder had failed, and Bourn was the last ditch effort to bring in someone who could provide everything they needed: a true leadoff hitter with speed that can play tremendous defense. Once that didn’t pan out, we were forced to accept the current crop of players that were already in camp. While Lucas Duda seemed to always have the left field job locked up, center and right field would likely be run by platoons, according to most reports.
Apr 1, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder Collin Cowgill (4) rounds second base after hitting a grand slam against the San Diego Padres during the seventh inning of a MLB opening day game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
I was hoping with all my might that someone would step up and have such a good spring that Terry Collins would have to scrap the original plan of running a platoon factory in the outfield, and thankfully, both Marlon Byrd and Cowgill accomplished that. The Mets already knew what Byrd was capable of, and as long as he showed any signs of life in his game, he’d be a favorite for a roster spot. The situation was a bit different for Cowgill; this is an unproven player with only 221 career MLB plate appearances to his name, and Collins has not only labeled him as New York’s starting center fielder, but their leadoff hitter as well. That’s a lot of pressure for someone who hasn’t appeared in more than 38 games in a major league season.
However, as we saw during spring training, Cowgill never takes anything for granted, and always plays the game hard. He’s a man on a mission, determined to show his worth, and to prove to all his critics he can hack it in the big leagues as a full-time player. The best part about giving someone like Cowgill a chance to start is that he brings a different type of urgency for the table. Players who have always been starters don’t feel the need to prove themselves immediately to stick around, but those who haven’t gotten anything handed to them in their professional career look at the opportunity to start from a different perspective. When he was named the starting center fielder, he had this to say about it:
"“I’ve got a lot to work to do. Just because I have the job now doesn’t mean I get it for the whole year. I have to play hard and play well and help this team win, and that’s what I’m going to do.”"
This is music to my ears; as a fan, I know baseball season is a grind, but I still expect to see players stay motivated throughout the course of the year. The statement above is proof that Cowgill never plans to take his foot off the gas pedal, and that kind of mentality is going to quickly win fans over that haven’t yet been convinced.
How important was yesterday’s game for Cowgill in his career? His father drove from Kentucky to watch him play…that’s a 12-hour ride. Cowgill rose to the occasion and continued to give his father reasons to cheer by going 2-for-5 with a grand slam, making him the first player in Mets history to hit a grand slam in his team debut.
I said this a couple months ago, but we need to come to terms with the current state of the outfield. Even after the 11-2 win against the Padres, I saw some people on Facebook and Twitter saying it’ll be a long year with the minor league outfield New York has assembled. Whether that ends up being true or not, can’t people just forget about that for one moment and enjoy the win? I’m the eternal optimist, and while it might sound crazy that I think the outfield will perform better than what’s anticipated, there really is potential for that to happen because of the kind of players occupying those positions.
Lucas Duda, Byrd, and Cowgill are all intrinsically motivated to prove naysayers wrong over the course of this year. One can never discount a player that wants to prove they belong somewhere, and the tone has been set yesterday by the guy standing front and center. Believe me, I know we’ve only watched one game and have plenty more to play, but judging by the way Cowgill has played thus far and has carried himself since donning the Orange and Blue in February, I’ll gladly take the odds in favor of the underdog.