Dylan Covey’s first time through the California League didn’t go according to plan. The Oakland A’s 2013 fourth-round pick made eight starts for the High-A Stockton Ports during the final two months of the 2014 season. He allowed 31 runs in 39 innings (7.15 ERA) despite having one start where he carried a no hitter into the seventh inning.
Now back in the California League for a second time, Covey is producing much better results. In five starts this season, he has a 2.96 ERA, a remarkable 5.20 GO/AO and a 65% groundball rate.
Covey admits that the Cal League’s reputation for being offense-friendly played into his struggles.
“Last year, I kind of got here and if the wind was blowing out, I was afraid of giving up homeruns, so I think I tried to do too much with my pitches,” Covey said before the Stockton Ports took on the San Jose Giants last Friday. “I fell behind a lot of hitters. That hurt me. Now I am trusting my talent and letting batters get themselves out.”
Talent has never been an issue for Covey. The Southern California native was a star for Maranatha High School. In 2010, Covey was selected with the 14th overall pick in the draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. Scouts saw a potential front-line starter in Covey, who had the frame and the fastball that scouts dream on.
Covey’s path to professional baseball took an unexpected detour just as he was set to sign with the Brewers. Doctors discovered that Covey had Type 1 Diabetes. Suddenly, his health and not his game needed to be his primary focus. Covey chose to forgo professional baseball and instead go to college, where he could continue to develop as a pitcher while also learning to live with diabetes.
Covey threw only 34.1 innings as a freshman at University of San Diego, but he became a regular starter for the Toreros during his sophomore and junior seasons. Although he had a 5.05 ERA as a junior, Covey showed enough promise that the A’s snapped him up in the fourth round in 2013 and signed him to a six-figure bonus.
Assigned to short-season Vermont after signing with the A’s, Covey make quick work of the New York-Penn League. He threw 12 innings and didn’t allow a run while striking out 15 and walking just one batter. Covey then moved up to Low-A Beloit, where he posted a 4.75 ERA in 10 starts (47.1). He struck-out 31 and walked 17.
Covey returned to Beloit to start the 2014 season. He had an up-and-down stint with the Snappers, alternating bad and good months. Covey finished his time with the Snappers with a 4.81 ERA in 101 innings. He says the cold April weather in the Midwest League took some getting used to.
“Last year [the weather] was brutal,” Covey said. “It was snowing our first series. It was tough. I had never hardly been in weather that cold, let alone played baseball in it. You warm up for an hour and you still feel like your joints are stiff and your body is stiff. It’s a nice change this year [with the warm weather].”
Weather wasn’t the only issue for Covey last season. He has a four-seam fastball that sits in the mid-90s, but he threw his two-seam fastball far more frequently than he threw his four-seamer last season. The two-seamer was very effective at getting groundball outs, but it didn’t give Covey as much of a swing-and-miss pitch and he didn’t get as many called strikes with the two-seamer.
This season, Covey is focusing on using his four-seamer more to attack hitters.
“I have been using both this year,” Covey said. “Whatever the game plan calls for, that’s what I throw. If it is a righty and he can’t hit the outside pitch, I’m going to throw the four-seam away. But if it is a lefty, I’ll throw the two-seam in. I don’t think I throw [the two-seam] as much as I did last year. Last year, I think I relied on it too much.”
Covey also is focused on being more aggressive in the strike zone rather than trying to live on the edges. He has been working closely with Stockton Ports’ pitching coach Rick Rodriguez on getting ahead in the count with the fastball and trusting that the pitch is good enough to challenge hitters with.
“I have definitely been able to dial-in my pitches and the adjustments I made last year have carried over into this year,” Covey said.
Covey still isn’t getting as much swing-and-miss as one would expect from a pitcher with his power arsenal, however. Through his first 27.1 innings, he has only 14 strike-outs and he has also walked 14. Despite those numbers, Covey has pitched well in four of his five starts this season. With the exception of his second outing of the year, Covey has gone at least five innings in each start while allowing two runs or fewer.
After battling inconsistency last season, Covey is encouraged by his start to the season.
“I just want to put the team in the best opportunity to win that I can,” Covey said. “I think I have been doing a pretty good job of that so far. I’m just trying to get ahead of batters and get them out in three pitches or less.”
Covey’s groundball rate has been well above-average since he turned pro, but it is the best of his career by far thus far this season. In 226.2 professional innings, Covey has a career 58% groundball rate. He says that his groundball tendencies come naturally to him.
“In high school, I wasn’t really aware of [being a groundball pitcher] and then in college, I wasn’t really aware of it either,” Covey said. “In college, the infielders, there are a lot of singles through the hole. When you reach pro ball, you have better infielders, so they are able to get balls that were hits before. Maybe I always have been [a groundball pitcher] but I never really realized it.
“Since I have come to pro ball, it has definitely been something that just seems to happen. I don’t try to do it but I don’t try to get pop-ups or groundballs. It just sort of happens.”
Covey’s adjustments to professional baseball were not all made on the field last season. The right-hander had to learn to live the life of a minor leaguer while also eating well enough to manage his diabetes. Covey said that while it isn’t always easy to eat healthy, he was able to adjust to the grind of a 142-game season.
“I think I came in prepared,” Covey said. “Obviously traveling on the road to some of these cities, there aren’t the best options for eating. Sometimes the only option is ordering a pizza at 12 at night. But that’s what comes with the job. It’s definitely an adjustment, but it isn’t any different than it is for anyone else on the team. It’s not like I can’t adjust to it. I have been able to make that adjustment.”