Covey declines deal after diabetes diagnosis
Likely Type 1, Brewers' top pick opts for University of San Diego
MILWAUKEE -- For the first time in nearly two decades, the Brewers and a first-round Draft did not strike a deal. A stunning medical diagnosis got in the way.Right-hander Dylan Covey, the 14th overall selection in June's First-Year Player Draft, woke up Friday thinking he was four days from signing his first professional baseball contract. He learned Friday afternoon that he was diabetic.
On Monday, only a few hours before the deadline for Major League teams and their picks to come to terms, came word with 95 percent certainty that it was Type 1 diabetes. Facing a lifetime of treatment and a major adjustment to his promising baseball career, Covey declined the Brewers' contract offer and said he would instead attend the University of San Diego."There was no time. We just had to make a decision," said Darrell Covey, Dylan's father. "Based on the information we had and the gut feeling we had, we felt that going to school was the best option. I want everyone to know that the Brewers were amazing, and they are as heartbroken as we are. But we had to go with the gut. "We just got thrown a curveball, and it was a nasty curveball. Like Dylan's, with late break. Those are very difficult to hit. This is very hard. This is a kid who has been dreaming of playing Major League Baseball his whole life." That dream will have to wait. Covey will spend the coming weeks and months adapting to a treatment regimen and dietary adjustments. The family's consensus is that the transition will be easier if he stays in Southern California. As compensation for not signing their first-round pick, the Brewers will get an extra first-round selection in next year's Draft, in addition to their regularly scheduled pick. "Obviously, we're disappointed," Brewers amateur scouting director Bruce Seid said. "He would have been the cherry on top of what looks like a very nice Draft class. There's no hard feelings." Both sides declined to say how much the Brewers offered Covey. Darrell Covey, who handled negotiations for the family to preserve his son's amateur status, said it was "very generous, considering the circumstances." The club missed on Covey, but did sign 35 of its 50 Draft picks from 2010, including all 13 players selected from Rounds 2-14, seven of whom are pitchers. Late Monday, the team came to terms with 13th-round selection Michael White, a right-hander from Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tenn. White, 20, stands 6-foot-6. Covey, with his mid-90s fastball and excellent curve, drew pre-Draft comparisons to the Giants' Matt Cain and the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley, the latter of whom plays his home games just down the I-110 freeway from the Covey residence in Pasadena, Calif. In his senior season at Maranatha High School, Covey went 7-1 with a 0.40 ERA and three saves and was named Gatorade's California Baseball Player of the Year. But his fastball velocity dipped near the end of the season, part of a slew of symptoms that the Coveys now recognize as early warning signs of diabetes. Dylan was more fatigued than usual, and was insatiably thirsty. "Now that we know it's diabetes and can look back on it, it was clear as a bell," Darrell Covey said. "We just didn't pick up on the symptoms." Covey underwent a physical exam during the middle of last week, and as of Friday morning, expected to sign with the Brewers. The team had yet to make a formal offer, but that was not altogether alarming; as of Sunday, only three players selected higher than Covey in the Draft had come to terms with their teams. On Friday afternoon, Darrell Covey got the initial results of a blood test that showed signs of diabetes, and was told to take his son immediately to the emergency room. Darrell had to pick up Dylan from an amusement park, where he was enjoying the evening with friends. On Sunday, Dylan spoke via telephone with Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes during his senior year of high school, before the Mariners made him a first-round Draft pick. On Monday, Covey went to see a specialist at UCLA's Gonda Diabetes Center, where the family was told with 95 percent certainty that Dylan was also Type 1. Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin to control levels of blood sugar. "The news was such a shock to me," Dylan Covey told the website Baseball Beginnings on Monday night in his only interview. "It explained a lot of what went on late in the season. At this point, it's going to take about six months to get used to the treatment cycle. I've got about six months till the college season begins. This is all new stuff, and a lot of it is hard to remember. I just felt like it was going to be easier to get used to what this lifestyle is going to be in college than in pro ball." Said Darrell Covey: "The Brewers even offered to let us have four months, five months, whatever it took at home, to acclimate. But it was Dylan's decision. He finally said, 'I need to go to school.' We felt bad because the Brewers have done so much work on this. We were totally blindsided -- all of us." Right-hander David Pember, who pitched for the Brewers in 2001, was also a Type 1 diabetic and wore an insulin pump on the mound that helped manage his blood sugar.
Before Covey, Milwaukee had signed all of its first-round Draft picks since Kenny Henderson was the fifth overall selection in 1991. He went to the University of Miami instead and was drafted in the fourth round by Montreal three years later, but again declined to sign. When the Padres took Henderson in the fifth round in 1995, he finally signed and topped out at advanced Class A Rancho Cucamonga in 1997. After a stint in independent baseball, Henderson's career was over.Seid stressed the pitchers who did sign with the Brewers this summer, a list headed by second-round pick Jimmy Nelson. The right-hander from the University of Alabama has not pitched for rookie-level Helena since Aug. 5, but he has 19 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings and has allowed only two earned runs in his last 10 2/3 innings after a tough start. "He had a couple rough innings off the bat, but he's settled in," Seid said. "He's got many more strikeouts than innings, and he's been clocked up to 96 [mph]." Third-rounder Tyler Thornburg -- out of Charleston Southern -- struck out 20 batters in his first 9 1/3 professional innings at Helena and has touched 98 mph. Fifth-rounder Matthew Miller from the University of Michigan is throwing 91-94 mph and leads the Pioneer League with six wins while ranking second with a 1.11 WHIP and fourth with a 2.62 ERA. That group is at the back end of a pitching pipeline that club officials have made a point to prop up in recent weeks. Seid highlighted the prospect-rich staff at Double-A Huntsville, where right-handers Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, Jeremy Jeffress and Andre Lamontagne all possess size and power fastballs. The Brewers might be highest of all on right-hander Jake Odorizzi, a 20-year-old pitching at Class A Wisconsin. "There's a tremendous amount to be excited about," Seid said. "There are some darn good arms in this system that have a chance to flourish. We're pretty excited about what the next few years are going to bring from a pitching standpoint."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.