Of all the unorthodox moves Jerry Dipoto has made in his time as the Seattle Mariners’ general manager, this has to be up there.
Kaleb Cowart has never pitched in the big leagues, nor at all in his nine total professional seasons when you include his time in the minor leagues. But the Mariners announced after claiming the 26-year-old off waivers from the Angels on Monday that they intend to bring him to spring training as a two-way player.
Yes, a two-way player from the Angels who isn’t Shohei Ohtani.
The thought is that if Cowart’s bat continues to not play well – the switch-hitter batted .134 over 47 games in four stints with the Angels last season and is a career .177 hitter over 162 career major league games – then maybe his arm can. He was the Angels’ first-round pick in 2010 as a third baseman out of Cook High School in Georgia, but many teams were considering him at the time for his pitching.
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Dipoto told reporters in Las Vegas at the MLB winter meetings on Monday night that Cowart had been on the pitchers’ throwing program with the Angels the past six weeks. He also said Cowart throws in the mid-90s from the right side.
And this isn’t the first time Dipoto has considered converting Cowart to the mound.
Dipoto told the Orange County Register when he was the Angels’ GM in 2014 that he had discussed the idea with Cowart, even though his defense has been considered exceptional. The majority of his time in the pros has been at third base, but he’s also played first, second, shortstop and some left field.
“We tried to do this with Kaleb for a bit in 2014 and during the season put him on the bump and, sure enough, he hadn’t pitched since high school and it was 93-94 mph,” Dipoto told reporters Monday. “He’s recently started doing that again with the Angels and he’s been anywhere from 91-96 and it’s awfully interesting. Our thought is we’ll give him a chance to be a two-way player and see where that leads us.
“If nothing else, it leads to a wildly interesting 25th player on our roster.”
Cowart is among the stockpile of former first-round draft picks Dipoto has collected for the Mariners this offseason, along with left-hander Justus Sheffield, outfielder Jarred Kelenic, right-hander Justin Dunn, shortstop J.P. Crawford and veteran outfielder Jay Bruce.
That’s been Dipoto’s mantra. That’s why he added Mitch Haniger in a trade with the Diamondbacks about this time two years ago, and Marco Gonzales near the end of the 2017 season. Both are former first-round draft picks who have started to pan out for the Mariners. And the same goes for Mike Leake; even Wade LeBlanc is a former second-round pick.
He said he learned that from John Hart, a former president of baseball operations for the Braves.
“When I retired as a player John said this to me, that you will be a general manager and I want you to look back when you’re building rosters and look back at the guys who have ones and twos next to their draft status, meaning first and second rounders,” Dipoto said earlier this year.
“If they are struggling in some area, at some point some team thought enough of that player to pick them in the first two rounds. I’ve used that guidance so many times.”
So now he’s hoping maybe there’s something in Cowart.
“Really, you try to let him do both (pitch and hit) as long as you can,” said Dipoto, who said he considered Cowart more of a pitching first-round talent when he was with the Diamondbacks in 2010. “Because the value of it is pretty awesome if you can tap into that type of guy. Especially with where today’s game is going with the benches being smaller, if you can find a guy who can do both of those, great.”
With him added, the Mariners’ 40-man roster is now at 36 players.
Haniger trade talks
If the Mariners were willing to move Edwin Diaz, might they be willing to trade outfielder Mitch Haniger, too?
Doesn’t sound like it.
Dipoto said a handful of teams have attempted to make offers for Haniger and all have been quickly shut down.
“I tell them, ‘If you want to blow me away, give it a shot,’ ” Dipoto said. “We had a handful of teams try, but they haven’t quite gotten to where we would even consider it.”
Haniger had a breakout 2018 season and is still on his rookie contract for another year before he’s arbitration eligible. He wouldn’t become a free agent until 2023.
Although, he is going to turn 28 on Dec. 23 and would be approaching 31 by 2021, the season Dipoto hopes is the year Mariners are ready to compete for a World Series berth.
Haniger hit .285/.366/.493 with 26 home runs and 38 doubles with 93 RBI this All-Star year.
“He represents everything we would like to gear ourselves to,” Dipoto said. “Without putting all our eggs in one player, but he’s an example of how we want our players to think about the game and prepare for the game. The fact that he’s turned himself into a great player is gravy, but it’s how he goes about his business that’s the attraction.”
And that doesn’t sound like a player he’d trade.
Mariners lose assistant GM
Mariners assistant general manager Jeff Kingston, who had been with the club for the past nine seasons dating back to Jack Zduriencik’s GM tenure, resigned Sunday to take the same position with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kingston was Dipoto’s top assistant, which means Justin Hollander slides into that role.
“That was a big hit for us,” Dipoto said, noting Kingston’s leadership in biomechanics and technology for the Mariners this season.
Dipoto said they’ll likely look in-house for Kingston’s replacement to work with Hollander, who was promoted to director of baseball operations and assistant general manager on Nov. 1.