Dylan Covey was out celebrating his birthday a day early at an amusement park. Covey wouldn’t receive his real birthday gift, though, until three days later, on August 16, when he planned to sign a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that selected him in the first round, 14th overall, in the June draft following his senior year at Maranatha High School in Pasadena, California.
Covey got a phone call while at the park from his dad, Darrell, who told Dylan that he needed to go to the emergency room of a local hospital. The blood work had come back from Covey’s physical examination with the Brewers, and his blood sugar levels were extremely high. Neither the doctors in the emergency room nor the Brewers medical team were completely certain about what was wrong, but they had an idea of what was going on.
Covey and his family visited the Gonda Diabetes Center at UCLA three days later on what was supposed to be signing day. Dr. Andrew Drexler, a diabetes specialist, told the Coveys that he was 95 percent certain that Dylan had a case of Type-1 diabetes.
“This was a big shock to me, my family, and the Brewers,” Covey said, “No one saw this coming. The Brewers wanted to sign me on (August 14), but understandably, they wanted to get as much information [on the diagnosis] as they could.”
Type-1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas stops producing insulin. Without insulin, glucose in the body’s blood and urine begins to increase at deadly levels. The illness can be fatal unless treated.
“I mean, I had felt normal," Covey said. "I was so used to feeling bad that I just felt fine.”
It explained a lot of questions that had come up for Covey and his family over the past year. He had been drinking an abnormal amount of water, had trouble sleeping because of his constant use of the bathroom, and always felt tired. Each of these symptoms can be directly associated with diabetes.
“I remember I had a slide towards the end of my [high school] season where my [fastball] velocity dropped," Covey said. "My doctor guaranteed that was [linked to] the diabetes. My dad and I were thinking that maybe my mechanics had changed, and that was why, but my doctor said he was sure it was the diabetes.”
In his last start for Maranatha, Covey was lit up for eight runs and seven hits, including a home run, in five innings against Campbell Hall Episcopal. The runs and hits were season highs. It was without a doubt Covey’s worst outing of the year, if not his high school career. Rather than hitting 97 mph with his fastball as he had done in the past, he was throwing in the low 90s and also had trouble with his control.
“I was just tired [that day], without realizing it," Covey said. "I was just so worn out. I wasn’t prepared, and I clearly wasn’t completely healthy.”
Still, Brewers scouts overlooked the late-season stats and remained firm with their belief in Covey’s potential. While his first-round selection remained an accurate analysis of the right-hander, it was the diabetes diagnosis that helped explain why his scouting reports had varied.
The Brewers organization was ready to do whatever it had to do to get Covey to sign, including allowing him to report to fall instructional league late once he had his diabetes under control. The Brewers were willing to offer a signing bonus of a reported $1.7 million.
“The Brewers actually came into my doctor’s office and offered me a contract," Covey said. "They could not have been better given the circumstances. They told me they would do anything that was necessary for the diabetes. But after talking with my family, college—which won’t be too far from my home—will be easier to adjust to. They will have trainers, doctors, and nutritionists, the whole deal there. I know I’m going to feel very comfortable.”
Covey will honor his commitment and play at the University of California, San Diego. Covey and Barrett Loux, drafted by the Diamondbacks sixth overall, were two first-round picks that did not sign due to health reasons. Loux failed a club physical last month because of a shoulder injury he had suffered while still playing college ball at Texas A&M.
Covey has received nothing but both care and compassion over the past week.
“Everyone that I have talked to has been really supportive, but regardless, it’s a kind of lifestyle change that takes maybe six months to get used to," Covey said.
Aside from his family, nobody has been more supportive than Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow, who is also a Type-1 Diabetic. Morrow made headlines on August 8 when he one-hit the Rays while striking out 17. He spoke to Covey on the phone, one diabetic to another. Morrow was the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft from University of California, Berkeley by the Mariners.
"He was just telling me that after while, it’ll just be another thing you do," Covey said. "As frustrating as it may be at times, it’s something I’m going to have to adjust to. It was great to talk to Brandon; hearing how confident he was helped me out a lot.”
Rather than take two or three injections daily, Morrow wears a fast-acting insulin pump in his back pocket, first worn in the major leagues by former pitcher Jason Johnson. It’s something Covey would like to use down the road, but wants to get used to giving himself multiple insulin shots.
“It’ll be a little different for me, since I’ll be going into my first year of college with my new diagnosis, whereas Brandon was going into his senior year," Covey said. "But it’s something I know I can handle.”
Living with diabetes is a lifestyle change in itself. Imagine, on top of that, the challenges that come with playing and traveling around the minor leagues.
“I want to get my feet set with the whole diabetes thing," Covey said. "If what everyone is saying is true, I’ll feel a lot better. I just want to contribute to the baseball program at UC San Diego. Hopefully, I will come out as a top draft pick again in 2013.”
According to Baseball America’s scouting report, Covey is a strong and sturdy right-hander with tons of potential. His fastball has heavy life to it with both sink and late “giddyup.” His power curve hits 80-81 mph and can be ranked as high as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has a developing changeup that complements good control of all his pitches.
“I would love to work on my change in school," Covey said. "That is the pitch that separates the good pitchers from the great pitchers. I have a lot of faith in the program at San Diego. And If I can become better—that would be awesome.”
Covey has no regrets about his decision, and while it has been a chaotic week or so for the 19-year-old, he’s handled everything like a professional. He also understands his ties with the Brewers have not been cut.
Covey will be eligible for the draft again in 2013 following his junior season of college. Whether it’s with the Brew Crew or another franchise, do not be surprised to see the flamethrower eventually make a mark in professional baseball.
“They were willing to go above and beyond, and who knows what some other organization might’ve done?" Covey said. "The reason I didn’t sign wasn’t because of what the Brewers did or didn’t do—I had been diagnosed with diabetes. And it was something I had to take care of first.”
Jesse Behr is a Baseball Prospectus intern.