Bailey hoping one pitch doesn't derail MLB dream

6/9/09 in HS Baseball   |   burnet44   |   49 respect

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One throw and one pitch will help decide where Luke Bailey is selected in the upcoming MLB draft.

The throw occurred last summer at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis, when the catcher from Troup County High School in LaGrange, Ga., recorded a 1.73-second pop time. The drill measures the time it takes a catcher to receive a pitch from a crouch behind home plate and then throw to second, glove to glove.

Luke Bailey
His score, the best at the showcase, was one of many reasons major league talent scouts have been knocking on his door. It also helped make him Rivals.com's ninth-rated high school baseball prospect for 2009.

While that one throw will help Bailey achieve his dream of playing in the major leagues, one pitch represents a bump in the road. After pitching sporadically throughout his high school career, Bailey took the mound to close a game for the first time this season in April, threw a few pitches and then felt his arm tighten up. Then after one pitch, he felt his elbow pop and burn, forcing him out of the game. Even with rest, his arm never fully recovered.

Bailey soon learned he would need ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, also known as Tommy John surgery. Common among major league pitchers, in Bailey's case it meant replacing a ligament in his right elbow with a tendon from his right wrist. (Ligaments connect bones to bones. Tendons connect muscles to bones.)

Less than a month after going under the knife, Bailey is optimistic that his arm will be better than ever. He is starting to recover his range of motion and is undergoing physical therapy as part of a nine-month healing process.

"I'm taking everything slow," he said. "I don't use my arm at all. I don't eat with it. I don't do anything with it. I'm just playing it safe with everything."

Bailey has played catcher since he was 11 or 12 years old. According to his coach, Craig Garner, he averaged more than two pickoffs a game as an eighth-grader starting for the ninth grade and junior varsity teams. His senior season, he batted .569 with six home runs. He also has good speed, running 60 yards in 6.89 seconds.

But numbers don't tell the whole story.

"He just has a good rapport with the pitchers," Garner said. "He knows how to read the different pitchers, and he knows how to go out there and get on their tail a little bit and get them focused. Or he knows when to go out there and put his arm around their shoulder and settle them down and give them confidence. He's a good people person."

Bailey has signed to play for Auburn University, which drew his interest because of the coaches, the facilities and the fact that Plainsman Park is only about 45 minutes from his home ? close enough for his parents to see him play.

But if he gets the right offer in the upcoming MLB draft, he'll play professionally straight out of high school.

"It doesn't matter which team," he said. "It's always been a dream to get drafted, so I wouldn't be picky about which team."

He knows that his injury could affect his draft status, but he said that talent scouts continue to assure him that he's still a hot commodity. And while no one wants to have reconstructive surgery, he said he's not worried about how it will affect his future.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said while relaxing at the beach with his girlfriend and her family. "It brought me to a different path, but it's no big deal. It's what's supposed to happen."

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