The baseball life of new Indians outfielder Collin Cowgill has been that of the platoon man, and while he looks to call Cleveland home in 2016, his role with his new organization will be more of the same.
Cowgill was set to be non-tendered by the Angels in early December after an injury-depleted 2015 season when the Indians swooped in to purchase the outfielder from Los Angeles before he could hit the open market. They then avoided arbitration with their new man and came to terms on a one-year, $1 million contract for the coming season.
The 29-year-old has not had luck on his side throughout his Major League playing days, as several fluke injuries have kept him out of the lineup consistently and prevented his career from taking off the way he might have liked. He is also well traveled, as his acquisition by Cleveland was his fourth new city in four years and the fifth of his professional career.
Cowgill was originally drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, one season after being drafted, but not signed, by the Oakland Athletics with a 27th round selection. He made it to the Majors with the D’Backs in 2011, playing in 36 games and hitting .239.
Still interested in their former unsigned pick, the A’s acquired him as part of a five-player swap with Arizona following the season, but after appearing in just 38 games and hitting .269 with Oakland, he was dealt to the New York Mets a little over a year after joining the Athletics.
He hit .180 in 23 games with the Mets and was traded in June of 2013 to the Angels for a minor leaguer. He spent two and a half seasons with the Halos, hitting .231 in 50 games in 2013, .250 in 106 games in 2014, and just .188 last season while taking the field 55 times.
He missed much of last season while rehabbing a sprained right wrist that did not heal as quickly as hoped. He did return in September and hit .250 in his final 20 games, but was limited to just eight at bats while used primarily as a late inning defensive replacement.
The versatile outfielder also missed time late in the 2014 season with fractures to his nose and right thumb when he was struck by a pitch while trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt. The ball came up and in and struck his thumb, still gripping the bat, before deflecting onto the bridge of his nose, causing a break and laceration that required stitches.
He comes to Cleveland with a career .236 average, 12 career homers, and 57 RBI in 308 games over parts of five seasons.
His career splits show more of a reason to utilize him in a platoon role. His splits are almost even in regards to plate appearances, but the numbers are staggered heavily in favor of using him predominantly against left-handed pitching. He owns a slash of .271/.327/.406 with 15 doubles, four triples, and eight home runs against southpaws, with a .200/.270/.258 line with seven doubles and four homers in just eleven fewer plate appearances. His walk totals are nearly identical, regardless of arm pitched, but his strikeout rate is higher versus righties. Strangely, he has just one fewer RBI against them.
He has played all three outfield spots throughout his career, but is thought to be much better built for a role in the corners than in center field, where he has played no more than 24 games in any one season. His work in right field has been limited as well, appearing nearly half as frequently there than in left field.
Defense may be what has kept him around in the big leagues when able to survive through injuries. In just 200 innings in the field last season, he was worth six runs saved defensively versus the average defender. He was worth nine in 2014, but saw nearly three and a half times as much playing time in the process that season.
Cowgill could help the Indians in the field to replace Michael Brantley while he recovers from his offseason shoulder surgery, but he is not even close to comparable at the plate.
There is some belief that the right-handed hitting Cowgill will platoon with left-handed hitting Lonnie Chisenhall in right field if he makes the roster out of camp, but until Brantley is back, Cowgill could see time in left as well with that spot being his most familiar position at the MLB level. With the exception of the 2013 season, he has graded out with a better than league average range factor per nine innings at all outfield positions played. He has not made an error since 2014, when he committed two in right field and one in left.
He will have to earn a job out of spring training, though, because he has a minor league option remaining and the Indians could send him to the minors in the event that someone outperforms him in camp. His primary camp competition may be former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Joey Butler, who will turn 30 during the second week of March and has appeared at the Major League level in three different seasons for three different clubs. Like Cowgill, Butler may be best suited for a corner spot, but has shown more power and a better average at the plate throughout his professional career.
It may be a new city and a new team, but it will be more of the same old story for Cowgill as he looks to catch on with a new organization and a new opportunity while staying healthy and on the field in 2016.
Photo: Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports