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Billy Cook came out of spring training feeling good. Good enough, in fact, that he had to be certain he wouldn’t endure the sort of slow start he experienced in High-A Aberdeen a year ago.
Then he went hitless for a few games for Double-A Bowie in the middle of the month. He started tinkering, thinking a change or two might address what seemed to be ailing him. Things got worse. By May 2nd, the 24-year-old outfielder’s average dipped to .098, and he had one extra-base hit in 61 at-bats.
“The a-ha moment was, ‘Why don’t you go back to spring training?’” Cook said. “And that was it. The next day, I went back to that after talking with [Baysox hitting coach] Sherm [Johnson] and it worked. We were like, ‘Why did we go away from it?’ I don’t know, but we’re not doing it again.”
The results since Cook’s reversion to his early-season approach back up that sentiment. In his last 61 games, Cook is hitting .315 (70 of 222) with 12 homers and 47 RBIs to go with 15 stolen bases. He homered for the fourth time in eight games Sunday, helping Bowie defeat Harrisburg, 4-3, to earn its seventh victory in eight games.
The third-year pro has raised his average to a season-high .269, and his slugging percentage has jumped from .115 to .466 since his tweaks.
“It’s not like you’re really forcing anything,” Cook said. “You’re just playing how you know you can play and you’re just staying relaxed. When I committed to ‘OK, whatever I did in spring training, that’s what I’m going to do,’ there wasn’t a worry about anything else besides that. That was the focus and whatever happened on the field happened, and you just stick with the routine and stick with the approach.”
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Cook’s season is how closely it has paralleled how he fared last year. A 10th-round pick in 2021 out of Pepperdine, Cook split his first summer of pro ball between the Florida Complex League and Single-A Delmarva before heading to Aberdeen in 2022.
The adjustment was difficult. He hit between .182 and .197 in each of the season’s first four months, not the sort of consistency anyone desires. But there was some pop in his bat, and he made it to the end of July with 10 home runs.
Still, the turnaround didn’t come until about a week later. He managed a .316 average with five homers and 22 RBIs in his final 26 games, raising his final numbers to .221 with 15 homers and 65 driven in over 112 games.
“I know what I’m capable of and I know what helps me succeeds,” Cook said. “Anytime something happens, it’s like, ‘Go back to what you know.’ Last year, I was looking for some different things. Finally, I was like, ‘What am I good at? What can I focus on? Forget about the first half of the season, focus on the second half like it’s a new season,’ and that got me going.”
Something else that has afforded Cook some opportunities in the Orioles’ system is his versatility. He played infield in his first two seasons at Pepperdine before moving to the outfield for his junior and senior years, and that experience has translated well at the pro level.
He played at least 18 games at each outfield position last year in Aberdeen and also appeared at second base in 27 contests (along with four games at first base and two more at third). Those corner infield cameos have vanished this season, and he’s played in right in 33 games, a plurality of the time.
But he’s also made 17 appearances at second, 12 in center and 11 in left, displaying the sort of flexibility needed when running into a glut of outfielders in Baltimore’s deep farm system.
“Keeping my bat in the lineup is the most important thing,” Cook said. “Being able to play infield when we have a lot of great outfielders and then my primary position in the outfield, it just keeps me going and you can kind of stay in that groove.”
It’s a groove that doesn’t seem to be going away. Cook homered in three consecutive games earlier this month, including leading off with a home run in top prospect Jackson Holliday’s Double-A debut on July 14th and is slugging .632 this month — a massive turnaround from his frustrating opening month.
“You can roll over and just accept it’s not going your way and it can keep doing that, or you can go pedal to the metal and figure out to turn it around,” Cook said. “I got with all our coaches, mental side, the mechanical side approach and kind of took it one game at a time. Your stats don’t go up 500 points in two games, so just chip away.”
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