Mariners Top 20 Prospects: #16 CF Austin Cousino

brianhelberg
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Austin Cousino’s wizardry in center field makes him a likely contributor with the Seattle Mariners in the near future.

Considered by many scouts to be the premier defensive outfielder in the 2014 draft, the Seattle Mariners were elated to select Austin Cousino in the third round. Cousino is quietly making a name for himself with the M’s, and fans will likely get to see him patrol center field at the corner of Edgar & Dave in the not too distant future.

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The 22-year-old made his professional debut with the Everett AquaSox of the Northwest League during the 2014 season. Cousino was one of the more productive players in the league, as he hit .266 with 17 doubles, 1 triple, 6 home runs and 28 RBI across 66 games. He posted a .341 on base percentage and slugged .402 through 309 plate appearances. Cousino is very fleet of foot, and he swiped 23 bases for the AquaSox.

The Mariners were very impressed with Cousino’s 2014 season, and they rewarded him with a few at bats with the big league club in spring training last season. He fared reasonably well considering his last of experience, going 1 for 8 wth a triple and 3 strikeouts.

Following his decent showing in Peoria, the Mariners sent Cousino to their Single-A affiliate in the Midwest League. Unfortunately, he looked uncomfortable at the plate and struggled with the Clinton LumberKings. Cousino slashed a disappointing .190/.253/.254 across 257 at bats. He contributed 11 doubles, 2 triples, 12 RBI and 9 stolen bases in 57 games. Power is not a big part of Cousino’s game, but his failure to tally a single home run in 2015 caught many by surprise.

Despite his rough 2015 season, the Mariners remain high on the University of Kentucky product. Cousino possesses an elite defensive skill set, and he is already the best center fielder in the system. He has great range, and a steady glove. Cousino has registered a .985 fielding percentage through 121 games since getting drafted in 2014. He also has an accurate arm, as demonstrated by his 4 outfield assists last season. Cousino has an innate ability to track the ball of the bat and gets excellent jumps in center field.

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Cousino hits and throws left-handed, and projects as a bottom of the order hitter in the big leagues. The real question is whether Cousino will ever do enough with the bat to stick in Seattle? It’s clear that his superb defense would be an asset, but he needs to further develop the offensive side of his game. He consistently makes contact and uses his speed effectively, but he needs to have a more mature approach at the plate. If Cousino can hit around .250, I believe he could be an everyday center fielder with the Mariners. However, that’s a big if.

Austin Cousino will turn 23 on April 17, and I believe the Mariners are going to be somewhat aggressive in his development. Look for Cousino to get some at bats this spring with the M’s in Cactus League action before being sent back to Clinton to start the 2016 season. Hopefully he is able to hit better the second time around in the Midwest League and earn a midseason promotion to the Bakersfield Blaze. Ideally, Cousino makes his AA debut near the end of the season with the Jackson Generals.

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Best case scenario, Cousino gets called up to the Mariners at some point in 2017. At worst, he figures to be a stellar utility outfielder. It will be fascinating to keep an eye on Cousino’s offensive numbers this season.

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