Billy Cook Is an Under-the-Radar Prospect in a Loaded Orioles System

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Cook is flying well below the radar in the Baltimore Orioles organization. That’s understandable. The 2023 American League East champions continue to boast one of the top farm systems in baseball, and Cook is a soon-to-turn-25-year-old outfielder/infielder out of Pepperdine University who lasted until the 10th round of the 2021 draft. Moreover, while he went deep a team-best 24 times this past season with Double-A Bowie, it’s easy to be overshadowed when your teammates include high-profile first-rounders such as Jackson Holliday and Heston Kjerstad, as well as highly regarded slugger Coby Mayo and, at year’s end, fast-rising backstop Samuel Basallo.

Those things said, Cook has a lot to prove. His numbers with Bowie were solid but unspectacular, posting a .251/.320/.456 line and a 110 wRC+. Moreover, while his 25% strikeout rate was an improvement from the previous year, he’ll likely need to further hone his contact skills if he hopes to beat the odds and wear a big league uniform. Given his age and utility profile, he remains more project than prospect — especially within a system with no shortage of blue chippers.

Cook discussed his game, and dark horse status, at the tail end of the Arizona Fall League season, which saw him log an .818 OPS with the Mesa Solar Sox.

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David Laurila: You hit 24 home runs this year, but outside of that, I don’t know a lot about you. How would you describe your game?

Billy Cook: “I’m working on my complete game. I think the power has always been there, and then there are the stolen bases [30 in 33 attempts in 2023]. I have speed. When I don’t get into my power, I can get away with a little soft contact here and there by beating out a groundball. But I do want to hit the ball in the air. This offseason I’ll be working on turning the hard groundballs into doubles, putting them into the gaps instead of hitting super low line drives. That’s pretty much it with the offense. Defensively, I’m trying to be that utility guy, someone who is able to play anywhere to keep the bat in the lineup.”

Laurila: Do you have a preferred position?

Cook: “I like the outfield. I think my overall skills — the speed and the arm — play best out there. But yeah, being able to play the infield — being able to play second and some first — is valuable. If someone needs a day off, or maybe there is a matchup thing we want to take advantage of, I can accommodate that. Versatility is important, so I’m working hard to continue to get better at the infield.”

Laurila: Circling back to your offensive game, how much have you changed since entering pro ball? For instance, would I see the same setup and swing if I compared video of then to now?

Cook: “No. I’ve tweaked a lot. It’s been about finding what works for me consistently. Sometimes a swing works for a week and then I get exposed — maybe it’s to low-and-way breaking balls — so I have to make another change. Here in Arizona, I’ve tried a couple of things. I’m ending with a little wider stance [and] no stride to keep it simple. I’m also starting early to help me see the ball better. I’ll be rolling with that into next year, and from there see what minor tweaks I’ll have to make.”

Laurila: I was planning to ask you about your stance. Watching you hit, I thought of how wide [Minnesota Twins prospect] Kala’i Rosario was when he won the Home Run Derby.

Cook: “Exactly. Like you said, I have power, so how can I translate my power with minimal movement? I found that with no stride I’m still able to hit the ball hard and get it out of the park. That’s helped keep me grounded, keep me simple in my setup. All I have to worry about is hitting the ball; I don’t have to generate a lot with a big load, or a big leg kick. I just pick up my heel, put it down, and go from there.”

Laurila: Do you feel that you’ve settled into that?

Cook: “I think so. This year, I went wider and had a small leg kick — I’d pick it up and put it down — and then with two strikes I would go no stride. I actually did pretty well with two strikes compared to [2022]. I kind of took that approach out here. It was, ‘Hey, let’s just try no stride.’ I figured that would give me three chances, instead of just one, with only a heel pickup. Now it’s a matter of ironing out a few things. I have a full offseason in front of me to almost perfect it.”

Laurila: You’re not losing any meaningful rhythm with such short movements?

Cook: “I don’t think so. I still have a little rhythm. I tap my bat a little. I get a little sway with my hips. So, it’s not just a super stiff movement. I can still flow into the ball. My exit velos have basically been the same.”

Laurila: What have those numbers been like?

Cook: “I had a homer the other day at 109 [mph]. I had one at 105. So I’m still hitting the ball hard. And like I said, I have more time to see the ball. I think I’m seeing breaking balls better than I was when there was a lot more movement.”

Laurila: Jumping to your prospect status, do you feel almost invisible? Largely because of the organization you’re in, you’re flying well under the radar despite putting up solid power numbers in Double-A.

Cook: “I mean, we do have a lot of talent, but I wouldn’t say ‘invisible.’ At the same time, I was a senior sign and a 10th-round guy. There was a lot of talent in my draft year, as well as in the year before and the year after, so there are just a lot of good players in our system. And I see myself as one of them. But there are obviously only three outfield spots, plus the backups, in the big leagues. I know that. All I can do is keep my head down and keep playing hard. In the end, you can’t argue with the results. All I can do is play my game and see where it takes me.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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bchildmember
4 months ago

I love how journalists talk to prospects XD I know it’s all in good faith but I laugh when someone basically says “I have no clue who you are, explain to me why you’re special”.