Jarred Cosart was playing right field at an American Legion national tournament at David Allen Ballpark in Enid. His father, Joe, was on an upper deck patio negotiating with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The signing deadline was less than an hour away. If Cosart didn't sign, he would play three years at the University of Missouri.
Two months earlier, Cosart and his 97 mph fastball slid all the way to the 38th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft. To get Cosart to skip college, the family informed the Phillies they would have to offer second- or third-round money.
Thirty minutes before the deadline, the Phillies offered a $550,000 signing bonus.
“Our game went extra innings,” Cosart said. “It was 11:18 (p.m.) when the game ended. The deadline was midnight. We had to go through mom. She's a school person. She wanted me to go to college. But after she heard the offer, she was on board.”
Five years later, Cosart is mowing down Triple-A hitters with the Oklahoma City RedHawks. Heading into his start Sunday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Cosart is 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 33 innings.
“He's been attacking the strike zone and has a good down angle to his fastball,” said RedHawks pitching coach Steve Webber. “From what I understand, his curveball has gotten better from last year. He tweaked his delivery a little this spring. He's off to a great start.”
An improved curve has made his fastball even more effective. His change-up gives him a third pitch to keep hitters off balance.
“I'm comfortable with all three pitches, but I'm a fastball guy,” Cosart said. “For me, throwing strike one is very huge. You can never be down in the zone enough and you can never throw enough strikes. It's all about command and consistency.”
Cosart turns 23 later this month. Obtained by the Astros in the Hunter Pence trade two years ago, Cosart is close to joining Houston's rotation, the type of power arm that could develop into a No. 2 or No. 3 major league starter.
“He's learning on the job but I don't see any reason why he won't have success at the major league level,” Webber said. “I really like what I've seen.”
A 38th round steal
Growing up, Cosart viewed himself as an outfielder more than a pitcher. At Clear Creek High School in League City, a Houston suburb, Cosart hit .506 his senior year, shattering Jay Buhner's school record.
Cosart could light up radar guns but was raw on the mound. He threw across his body in a herky-jerky manner. He had a ton of potential but was far from a sure thing.
Would a team be willing to select him in the second or third round?
Cosart was on a vacation with his family in Los Angeles during the 2008 June draft. When he wasn't selected in the early rounds, it wasn't a surprise he slipped. Baseball executives label it “signability.” If a team doesn't think they can sign a player, they feel they're wasting a draft pick.
The first two days of the draft, his cellphone never rang. Cosart became angry. His father informed their baseball adviser to take his son's name off the draft board, but the Phillies eventually selected him in the 38th round.
Two months later, the Phillies were serious about signing Cosart.
“I just wanted what I felt I was worth, which was the top three rounds,” Cosart said. “I really thought I'd be playing at Missouri.”
Raised in the Houston area, some were surprised Cosart signed with the Tigers instead of national powers in his backyard like Rice, Texas and Texas A&M.
“People told me, ‘You'll know when you find the right place,'” Cosart said. “They put out some good pitchers, like Aaron Crow and Max Scherzer. It seemed like a great fit for me. Plus they recruited me as an outfielder and a pitcher.”
Cosart preferred playing every day, but after he received a second-round worthy signing bonus, he resigned himself to the fact he would be a pitcher.
Does he still wonder what might have happened if he chose to be an outfielder?
“I'll never know if I made the right decision,” Cosart said. “But so far, it's worked out pretty good. I can't complain where I am right now. Once I got to high-A, I really started to like it and realized I had a chance to get to the majors. Once I started focusing on pitching, hitting wasn't the same.”
In the Astros' long-term plans
Cosart has compiled a career 29-22 record with a 3.53 ERA in the minors. His strong start with the RedHawks is a sign he could be blossoming about the time he gets his shot in the majors.
The Astros are off to a 10-26 start, the worst record in the majors, after losing a major league worst 213 games the previous two seasons.
With the Astros in a rebuilding phase, players will shuttle between Oklahoma City and Houston. Nine RedHawks already have been called up. Cosart should make his major league debut at some point this season.
“You try not to look too much at that because that can get you off your game,” Cosart said. “In the past, I felt if I put up good numbers, I might get moved up. That hasn't worked for me. My thing is focusing on one game at a time, one pitch at a time. I'll let the other stuff take care of itself.”
Cosart would be an upgrade compared to most pitchers currently in Houston's rotation. But because Cosart figures into the Astros' long-term plans, the organization might keep him in Triple-A a while longer since he spent most of last season in Double-A.
“He's done everything we could ask for, and we expect it to continue,” said Astros assistant general manager David Stearns. “He's a competitor. I'm sure he wants to prove he belongs in the major leagues. We expect he will, but we don't really put timelines on any of our players.”
Five years after he slid to the 38th round, Cosart is on the verge of pitching in the majors.
“I'm excited,” Cosart said. “You don't see a lot of 38th-rounders in the big leagues. When I make that next big step to the big leagues, hopefully I stay there for a long time.”