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Phillies prospect Cosart wants to prove his worth

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - Somewhere in the crowd, his future hung in the balance. Signing deadline was minutes away. Jarred Cosart was blacked out from his own contract negotiations.

Jarred Cosart is maturing into one of the Phillies' most promising young arms. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)
Jarred Cosart is maturing into one of the Phillies' most promising young arms. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)Read more

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - Somewhere in the crowd, his future hung in the balance. Signing deadline was minutes away. Jarred Cosart was blacked out from his own contract negotiations.

As Cosart gunned down runners from rightfield during this 2008 American Legion game in Enid, Okla., Dad went to work. Shuttling between Phillies executives atop an upper-deck patio and Jarred's mother in the bleachers, Joe Cosart negotiated a contract.

After plunging to the Phillies in the 38th round of the draft a few months earlier, Cosart was ready to start fresh at the University of Missouri. His bags were packed. He had a roommate. Had a dorm. Had planned to major in sports medicine. In 9 days, Cosart would report to campus. The pros could wait.

Unless, of course, his father could iron out a contract with the Phillies. Less than an hour before the deadline - with Jarred still playing - Joe Cosart struck a $550,000 signing bonus for his son.

"Most people say, 'Come on, were you really going to go to college? You were going to sign.' " Jarred Cosart said. "Absolutely not. I was going to college."

Instead, he is now in Lakewood, maturing into one of the Phillies' most promising young arms. Cosart's path to the organization was as stressful as an emergency room - from a bitter fall in the 2008 draft to a literal eleventh-hour signing. Now, the dust has settled. Finally, the righthander can decompress. Each game, he's molding an identity. Cosart is taming fastballs and emotion. Balancing brain and brawn.

In his first season with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, Cosart is 7-2 with a 3.44 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 15 walks.

Pitching remains somewhat of a novelty to Cosart. Growing up, he was a blue-chip hitting prospect. At Clear Creek High School in Texas, Cosart shattered Jay Buhner's batting average record, hitting .506 as a senior. But his fastball - whistling up to 98 mph these days - was too dangerous to ignore.

Cosart's challenge now is "getting a pitching IQ," BlueClaws manager Mark Parent said.

Cosart pours himself into every pitch. Parent is Cosart's chill pill. He has the task of recalibrating Cosart. Too often, Lakewood's ace loses focus when batters connect on his fastball. Take his start last week against the Lexington Legends, for example. A pair of batters cranked hits off Cosart's fastball, and he began flirting with changeups. He strayed away from who he was.

"Listen," Parent said he told Cosart. "You're not a [Jamie] Moyer, you're not a [BlueClaws pitcher Matthew] Way. You're a Cosart. You have a fastball. Don't get beat on your other stuff. You can show them that stuff, but don't get beat."

Each pitch, Cosart waded further into uncharted waters. Eventually, he eclipsed the 100-pitch mark. With one out, in a tie game, Cosart had runners on first and third. Parent asked Cosart whether he could continue. He did and fought his way out of the jam with a strikeout and a groundout.

Afterward, Parent told Cosart he grew up that night. Unlike past games, emotions didn't push him over the deep end.

Everything is still new to Cosart. The mind-set of a pitcher is different.

Cosart is trying to think big picture, think two moves ahead of opposing batters, such as his favorite pitcher, Boston's Josh Beckett.

"He struggles. He has had command issues," Cosart said of Beckett. "Once you get to that level, everyone can hit a fastball. It's about moving it around and changing speeds and learning how hitters think."

Also, Cosart's headstrong attitude could be harnessed into a weapon. One NL scout projected Cosart as a potential closer because of his cutthroat demeanor. The way Cosart sneers over his glove, the way he snatches the ball out of the air from the catcher.

Cosart's presence screams Jonathan Papelbon, the scout said.

"He's a guy that just wants to pound it right at you," the scout said. "Attack, attack, attack. When you talk about projecting a guy down the road and what he'll be - whether it's bullpen, reliever, starter - he's a guy that wants to air it out every time."

At Clear Creek, coach Jim Mallory spent hours rewiring Cosart's mechanics. While blessed with power, Cosart threw across his body in a herky-jerky manner. Through the reconfiguration, he was a perfectionist.

"He's the type of kid that puts high standards on himself," Mallory said. "He expects success. If he doesn't have that, it bothers him. That's one of the attributes you have to have."

So as you'd expect, falling to the 38th round stung. The unexpected nose dive still serves as a daily multivitamin for Cosart. He'll never forget that sinking feeling. He was on vacation with his family in Los Angeles, a high school graduation gift, of sorts. Getting drafted would be the cherry on top. Cosart stationed himself in front of the TV, flipped the baseball draft on, set his cell phone next to him and waited. His former adviser told him he'd go anywhere in the first five rounds.

Day 1 passed. Cosart was confused. Day 2 passed. Cosart became angry.

As the rounds flew by, Cosart eventually accepted the fact he might not be taken at all. Joe Cosart even told the adviser to remove his son's name from the draft board. Joe called Missouri's head coach. It was time to move on. Within minutes, the Phillies took Cosart in the 38th round.

A lofty price tag and college aspirations scared teams off, said Chuck LaMar, the Phillies' assistant general manager.

"He wanted a pretty large figure, so his signability was in question," LaMar said. "He was a young man that had good stuff, but had to grow up some off the field."

The Phillies tracked Cosart through Legion ball that summer, culminating with that wild night in Oklahoma.

Two different directions in life stared directly back at Cosart. Phillies executives were in town. Missouri pitchers Aaron Crow and Kyle Gibson were in town. And on top of this, Cosart had his entire Legion team to consider. Signing with the Phillies would deem him ineligible and cripple the team's World Series hopes. There was no way to please everyone.

Cosart decided to go pro, telling his dad a $100,000 signing bonus or better was fine with him. Dad got the Phillies to $550,000 and the Phillies promised to pay for Cosart's college tuition down the road. After the Legion game, Jarred hustled over to his parents. Joe Cosart looked at his son and said, "Well, you're a Phillie."

"That was pretty emotional," Joe Cosart said. "It was more emotional with everything he had to go through. He was pretty much put in the backseat of a lot of things he did not deserve."

Since Oklahoma, LaMar has seen Cosart grow up faster than he expected. Each game, he's developing the "pitching IQ" Parent speaks of. After starting only five games in the Gulf Coast League in 2009, Cosart has the third-most wins in the South Atlantic League.

"It's very unique that a young man with that lack of experience is doing what he's doing," LaMar said. "He's learning on the job and doing very well. With every outing Jarred appears to be more comfortable out there."

After a BlueClaws win last week over Lexington, Cosart slumped his 6-3, 180-pound body onto a leather couch inside the clubhouse. Up on the wall, a highlight of the Phillies' 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees looped on "SportsCenter." Teammates crowded around the couch to check it out.

Cosart didn't look up. Instead, he stayed fixated on his iPad, looking up the score of the Hickory Crawdads' game. Lakewood was in a heated competition with its fellow crustaceans for first place. Locking up first place by the All-Star break (which the BlueClaws eventually did) would guarantee a playoff berth. This was more important.

But as he heard the highlight finishing up in the background, Cosart couldn't help it. He glanced up and checked the TV screen. Right now, he's zeroed in with so much to learn in Lakewood. But someday, he hopes his name is up there, too.

"You don't see a lot of 38th-rounders in the big leagues," Cosart said. "Really, it'd be more of a statement to all the teams that passed me up. I think that'd be a statement for the Phillies as well."