Get to know Dylan Covey, White Sox Rule 5 pick

Prior to the Rule 5 Draft, we noted that rebuilding clubs often make use of this particular tool to acquire talent, and the White Sox seemed to fit that mold. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that they made a pick, though who they took was not someone on our radar. With the 9th pick of the MLB phase of the 2016 Rule 5 Draft, the Sox selected RHP Dylan Covey from the Oakland A’s. Covey features a 5-pitch arsenal that he uses to induce groundball outs as well as to strike guys out.

The Sox did not take anyone in the Minor League (AAA) phase of the draft, nor did they lose anyone in either phase.

Who is Dylan Covey?

You’ve probably heard his name when “1st round picks who didn’t sign” is mentioned. As always, there’s more to the story, but before I introduce you to him, let me state that I have covered Dylan since he was drafted by Oakland in 2013. I’ve seen him a hundred times – and have been a believer from day one. However, early in spring training this year, I saw all signs pointing to this year, 2016, being a break-out season for him, and were it not for an oblique injury, who knows? His performance in the Arizona Fall League was outstanding and I’m not afraid to say that I will be waving my #TeamCovey flag with great pride whenever he plays. That being said, let’s get to know Dylan.

Heading into his senior year at Maranatha High School in Pasadena, California in 2010 Covey was widely regarded as an elite pitching prospect due to his control of  two plus pitches – a fastball and a power curve – as well as a solid change-up which he threw with consistency. He was the quarterback on his school’s football team and with his club baseball team when not on the mound would take advantage of playing the field whenever possible. The intelligent, hard-working young man who had verbally committed to the University of San Diego was projected to go in the first round of the draft, despite having a senior campaign that was inconsistent at best. Losing 35 lbs and being tired – fatigued – more than ever before was initially written off to the pressures, activities of the time leading up to June’s draft.

On the first day of the 2010 draft, the White Sox chose a left handed pitcher from Florida Gulf Coast with their 1st (13th overall) pick- Chris Sale. The Milwaukee Brewers followed with the 14th overall pick and selected high school right hander Dylan Covey. Expectations were that he would forego his college commitment and start his professional career. That is until a few days before the August signing deadline when a blood test revealed the reason for the weight loss and fatigue endured by the 6’2″ right-hander over the past year: a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes.

The timing of the diagnosis left a lot to wrap his brain around before making such an important decision. He consulted with his parents, medical team and then-Blue Jays starter, Brandon Morrow, who was also diagnosed with Type 1 out of high school and went on to have a stellar college career at Cal before being the Mariners 1st pick in 2006. Covey turned down the lucrative contract with Milwaukee in lieu of dedicating himself to his health and learning to make the necessary behavior modifications to successfully manage his condition. As a southern California product, the 2-hour drive between San Diego and Los Angeles where his home and trusted medical providers were located made all the difference.

Covey joined White Sox OF-turned-LHP Louie Lechich on the Torero pitching staff, where their outings were supported by future NL MVP Kris Bryant. Learning to manage his condition and balance his first years at college led to understandably inconsistent production .

Three years and three rounds after hearing his name called for the first time, Covey was selected by the Oakland A’s in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. His signing scout, Eric Martins, had also been his travel ball manager and was a longtime trusted friend. He signed for $370,000, just a smidge below the $382,300 slot value.

Six years after the initial diagnosis, Covey’s day-to-day management of his diabetes includes monitoring his insulin several times a day, a healthy diet, daily exercise, and a close relationship with his trusted medical providers is as natural as brushing his teeth.

April 2016, in what was looking to be his breakout year, Covey broke camp with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds. After 1 inning on his 7th start of the season, he was removed from the game with an oblique injury and due in part to the Oakland’s notorious over-cautious care of their young players, his season ultimately came to an end. For 10 weeks, Covey lived out of a hotel in Mesa, Arizona close to the A’s player development facility at Fitch Park, and focused on a return to the mound in the Arizona Fall League as a member of the Mesa Solar Sox.

Mesa’s manager, Ryan Christenson, also served in the same role with the Midland Rockhounds and knew Covey quite well. Along with Solar Sox pitching coach, Vince Horsman from the Toronto Blue Jays, and assistant pitching coach Brian Lawrence from the Chicago Cubs, Covey’s Fall League outings were measured and monitored but not controlled. The breakout season of 2016 was happening, just a few months later than originally intended.

The 25 year old features 5 pitches: a four-seam fastball with velocity between 90-94, a sinker which he throws with a hard sink for a plethora of ground ball outs; a nasty cutter,  a true power curve that impressed scouts from as far back as his high school outings, and a split-change – his out pitch. The difference in his performance came when he learned he doesn’t have to be 100% effort all the time. Learning to throttle his effort and release when necessary, allowing the hitters to get themselves out, is taking him to the next level.

Along with fellow Oakland / former White Sox flamethrower Frankie Montas, he and Covey were a lethal tandem, and when it was their turn to start, odds were pretty good that the team would get the win. On October 20th, the small world of baseball provided a pitching match up of Covey and Montas (Mesa) against Nolan Sanburn (Glendale). The White Sox righty was not only drafted by Oakland in the 2nd round in 2012 and was a teammate of Covey’s before being traded to Chicago in 2014; but he was also roommates and teammates in Birmingham with Montas in 2015.

In 2 outings (7.1 innings) against the Glendale Desert Dogs, Covey allowed 5 runs on 11 hits with 2 walks and 5 punch outs. Forget the numbers. Covey’s performance on November 14th was rough from the start, but the way he battled back and had the trust of his pitching coach and manager to work himself out of a funk, was hands-down the most impressive 4 innings I’ve seen in years. Every pitcher is going to have days when they’re not throwing their best stuff, but how they respond, especially at this level, is what matters. I would have given a standing ovation if I hadn’t been in the press box.

Most people might choose one or two other games to be considered Covey’s best, and I understand. The first being the contest in Surprise on November 1st where the match-up featured 2 of the White Sox newest additions, in a battle of pitching brilliance. Covey and Montas on the hill for Mesa, and then-Red Sox prospect Michael Kopech starting for the home team Saguaros combined for a spectacular, 1:46 minute, 9-inning masterpiece, where the deciding (and only) run was scored in the top of the 9th, and Mesa combined for only the 3rd no-hitter in Arizona Fall League history.

The second would be a rematch of the 2 teams as they battled for the title of Fall League Champion. To the disappointment of most, the pitching match-up would not be the same as Kopech was needed to lead his team to victory in order to solidify both teams fate on the final day of the season.

The day before the championship game, Oakland decided not to protect Covey by adding him to their 40-man roster, thus making him eligible for the Rule 5 draft. The next day, Covey was …Covey. Perfect through 4 innings, allowing the first base runner of the game for Surprise in the top of the 5th when the first batter he faced was given a base on balls by the home plate umpire. The no-hitter was still intact, until two batters and one out later when a ball made it past the shortstop and into left field. With a great round of applause, the near-capacity crowd at Scottsdale Stadium showed their respect and appreciation for Covey’s performance, and pitching coach Vince Horsman made a trip to the mound to check in with the starter before allowing him to close out his 5th – and eventual final – inning as a member of the Oakland A’s.

Mesa won the game 6-2, and Covey got the win. When I asked him after the game if he used Oakland’s decision the day before as any sort of motivation for his outing, he said “No”, and I know that to be true. But it may have made the celebration a little sweeter.

Dylan Covey’s final line in the Arizona Fall League, including the Championship Game:

29.2IP 7 games 29 H, 14R(E) 0HR 9BB 20K  2WP GO/AO 1.89  BAA .240  ERA: 3.74  WHIP 1.01

For more background, videos, interviews and scouting information, see his profile page on Oakland’s site.

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Tags: Dylan Covey, Rule 5

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