Cowart's roller-coaster ride stabilizing at last

Simplified approach has Angels' former top prospect rediscovering past success

Cowart's roller-coaster ride stabilizing at last

ANAHEIM -- As the season progressed and the struggles endured, Brenton Del Chiaro, hitting coach for the Angels' Class A Advanced affiliate, began to receive the same text message two to three times a week:

Can I come over?

On the other end was third baseman Kaleb Cowart, the former top prospect whose stock had fallen so far he was now thinking about becoming a pitcher. The two shared the same apartment complex in Redlands, Calif., roughly 10 miles from the team's home ballpark in San Bernardino. And after games throughout April and May, Del Chiaro's living room became the place where Cowart spilled his guts.

He talked about the pressure of living up to the hype, relived his two crippling years in Double-A, expressed anger over his demotion and lamented the Angels' decision to basically move on, trading for fellow third-base prospect Kyle Kubitza because they could no longer count on Cowart's progression.

"It was two years built up that he just needed to unload," Del Chiaro said of Cowart. "There were times when I went 45 minutes without speaking a word. I just let him talk and talk."

These days, Del Chiaro is the one frequently reaching out to Cowart after games. Usually it's with a brief text message, typically centered on the same theme:

I'm proud of you.

Cowart is with Triple-A Salt Lake now, suddenly hitting like the guy the Angels fell in love with three years ago. His slash line through 205 plate appearances for the Bees is a robust .326/.400/.494. His at-bats are competitive, his rhythm and timing is on point -- his career is off life support.

Cowart's Minor League bio

"Man," Cowart said, "I can't even put into words how good that feels."

The resurgence began in Del Chiaro's living room, with simulated batting stances at 2 o'clock one morning.

To fix Cowart, they had to go back to when the struggles began.

Drafted 18th overall out of Cook High School in Adel, Ga., in 2010, Cowart put himself on the fast track in 2012, storming through both of the Angels' Class A levels with a .276/.358/.452 slash line. He earned an extended stay at Major League camp the following spring, batting .348, and the buzz in Arizona was that Cowart could've won an everyday job if he hadn't been 19 years old and behind several veterans.

Then, for the next 26 months, Cowart stopped hitting.

Cowart's RBI triple

He batted .221/.279/.301 at Double-A Arkansas during the 2013 regular season, repeated the level, batted .223/.295/.324 in 2014, got demoted to Class A Advanced Inland Empire to begin 2015 and sported an uninspiring .207/.277/.350 slash line through his first 36 games in a hitter-friendly league. In between, Cowart temporarily gave up switch-hitting and explored basically every mechanical adjustment possible, at one point copying Jim Edmonds by not even lifting his front foot off the ground.

"I know your Spring Training in 2013 was incredible," Del Chiaro told Cowart one night in late May. "What were you doing then?"

Cowart stood up.

"I'll show you."

Del Chiaro noticed how separated his hands were from his body, how his leg kick was in sync with his swing, and wondered how much better Cowart could be if he wasn't so fixated on getting his front foot down early.

"Do you have video?" Del Chiaro asked.

Cowart opened up a laptop, immediately pulled up at-bats from the spring of 2013 and turned to Del Chiaro: "You know how many times I've watched this?"

Cowart drove several balls to the warning track that spring and was told he'd get more power if he lowered the placement of his hands, so he did it. He was told about the importance of getting his foot down early, but it made him "super-stagnant and really stiff" at the plate, prompting a double toe tap that threw off his timing and engulfed him in a downward spiral.

"The images were messed up in my head, and I didn't quite understand them," Cowart said. "I thought I had to be down before the ball came out of his hand, but if you watch a big league hitter hit, that's not how it works."

Cowart -- subservient, by his own admission -- never brought that video to a coach's attention until that fateful night in Del Chiaro's living room. The next afternoon, he implemented what he saw in batting practice and brought it into the ensuing game.

"It exploded," Del Chiaro said. "And the look on his face of pure happiness and relief was just awesome to see, because he started smiling, he started having more fun and he started to see the success from all this hard work he was putting in."

In a six-game stretch from June 4-8, Cowart amassed seven doubles, four walks and three strikeouts. Right around that time, David Freese missed a couple of games with a tight hamstring, Kubitza was called back up to the Major Leagues and a new third baseman was needed at Triple-A Salt Lake, so Cowart jumped two levels.

"Timing is everything," said Angels assistant general manager Scott Servais, in charge of scouting and player development. "You have to be at the right place at the right time, and to Kaleb's credit, he took it and ran with it."

Now, with Freese a couple of months away from free agency, Cowart is making a strong case for an everyday job in 2016. He's a 23-year-old excelling at Triple-A, on the doorstep of his first Major League callup.

He is, through it all, on time.

"When you struggle, you just try to do more," said Cowart, ranked 12th in the Angels' system by MLB.com. "You try to do more and you try to do more and you bury yourself in a hole. And finally, it got to the point where it didn't matter if I struggled anymore. People had already given up, and it was what it was. There wasn't any pressure anymore. It got off me, and I was ready to play. I quit worrying. I quit worrying about trying to do everything and just went out and played."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.