Not that the Cedar Rapids Kernels teammates mind. They’ve been friends since playing summer travel baseball on the same Atlanta area team at age 14.
“We’ve got a great history together,” Clarke said.
A history that has extended to the professional ranks. They ended up being drafted in the same round (first) by the same organization in 2010, a mere 12 picks apart.
Cowart went 18th overall, Clarke 30th. They’re both toolsy switch hitters.
The Los Angeles Angels hope they have struck gold since they paid gold to get them. Third baseman Cowart inked a contract with a reported signing bonus of $2.3 million, center fielder Clarke got a reported signing bonus of $1.089 million.
“That was wild. It really was,” said Cowart, 19. “I remember the day of the draft. I went before him, but I was watching it, and saw that he got picked by the Angels, too. So I called him. We were excited. He signed before I did, that was just the way it worked out. But I remember communicating with him (and asking him) ‘Should I sign? What it’s like?’ I had no idea.”
Cowart and Clarke were briefly teammates in the Arizona Rookie League after signing in 2010, though Cowart spent last season at Rookie-level Orem while Clarke remained in the AZL. They’re back together again this spring and have gotten off to fast starts: Cowart 6 for his first 13 at-bats and Clarke 4 for 11 with four stolen bases.
The Kernels have their home opener Monday night at 6:35 against Clinton, the first of seven straight games at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“Me and Kaleb, it’s always good,” said Clarke, 20, whose first name is pronounced like the automobile, not the actor. ”The chemistry that we have, we’re always pushing each other. So when he’s doing great, I’m happy for him. When I’m doing great, he’s happy for me. If we’re struggling, we’ll both pick each other up. There’s really not anything from a jealousy standpoint. We’re pulling for each other.”
Kernels Manager Jamie Burke was asked to give a scouting report on his two bonus babies. He said he had Clarke most of spring training, while Cowart didn’t join the Kernels until the final week and a half.
“(Cowart) had solid at-bats from both sides of the plate,” Burke said. ”Defensively, he’s more polished than I’ve seen a 19-year-old in a long time. I’ve really enjoyed watching him play defense. He’s 19 years old, but he’s getting it. He understands. The ball jumps off his bat. His work ethic, how he prepares every day is just going to add to his future.
“I’ve had Chevy the whole spring, and he’s gotten better every single day. He’s had a great spring. He’s a competitor, he goes out there and plays the game the way it should be played. Defensively, he plays shallow, and he likes to track balls down. He runs the bases well, and he’s got some pop in his bat … I think he’s going to be a good player.”
The Georgia duo both said getting used to the grind of professional baseball has been the biggest adjustment they’ve had to make. They’ll be playing a 140-game schedule this season after a half season of 72 games their first two years.
They know going from high school to hopefully the major leagues is a long process.
“They take their time with high-school guys,” Cowart said. “You have to grow up and mature. Baseball’s not like other sports. There are a lot of things that you have to learn. There are certain ways you have to do things. It just takes time.”
“For me, it’s about getting better every day,” Burke said. ”It’s about getting better in this league and moving up to the California League. They’re priority guys, but they might feed off each a little bit. Just putting pressure on each other to perform, in a good way.”