Cameron Coffey went from anonymous high school lefthander to top draft prospect almost overnight. Then, just as quickly, an elbow injury put his future in jeopardy.
Yet on Thursday, the Orioles showed exactly how much they still believed in Coffey’s future. Nearly five months to the day after he had Tommy John surgery, the 22nd-round pick from Houston Christian HS signed with Baltimore for $990,000. It’s the largest deal ever for a player coming off Tommy John surgery shortly before the draft and reminiscent of the $710,000 bonus the Angels paid the late Nick Adenhart as a 14th-rounder in the same situation in 2004.
Coffey’s bonus exceeds that of the last two picks in the first round, Cubs outfielder Brett Jackson ($972,000) and Rockies outfielder Tim Wheeler ($900,000).
"Quite frankly, when the injury happened I gave up all hope," Coffey said. "As we approached the draft, [agent] Rob [Martin] told me there were a few teams still interested, and that was a small surprise. But even when I got drafted, I still thought I’d be going to college.
"Until two weeks ago, I had no intention of signing. Then they came in at almost seven figures, and I figured it would be best to sign. It still hasn’t sunk in yet."
Coffey drew little interest from scouts or college recruiters last summer. Though he had a projectable 6-foot-4 frame, Coffey’s fastball sat in the mid-80s, and there are hundreds of Texas high school pitchers who can throw in the mid-80s. Duke noticed him at a Stanford baseball camp and secured an early commitment, and Coffey seemed a lock to attend college.
That outlook changed when his senior season began. In a scrimmage in early February, Coffey hit 94 mph with his fastball. In his first official game, he sat at 92-93 mph and touched 95. But he also felt discomfort in his elbow after he threw his final pitch in the sixth inning.
Several scouts attended his next contest, but they didn’t stick around for long. Coffey struggled to top 85 mph in the first inning, and the pain got worse in the second. The next day, he could hardly move his elbow.
Dr. James Andrews performed Tommy John surgery on Coffey’s elbow on March 19, and again he seemed destined for Duke. But a few teams inquired about before the draft, and the Angels were willing to pay him $500,000 if he would sign as a 10th-rounder.
Coffey declined their offer and lasted until the Orioles took him with the 656th overall pick on June 10. Five weeks later, he resumed throwing. Area scout Rich Morales monitored his progress, and Baltimore decided to invest heavily in a player it rated as a top-two-rounds talent.
"This is one of the most meaningful deals we’ve been a part of," said Martin, whose Icon Sports Management group also represents 2009 first-round picks A.J. Pollock (Diamondbacks) and Chad James (Marlins). "To see a young man go from the uncertainty of elbow reconstruction to the dream of signing a professional contract in a relatively short period of time has been special. Give tribute to [Orioles scouting director] Joe Jordan, Rich Morales and the Orioles’ staff. They were on Cam early and often. They saw enough of him healthy to recognize what an incredibly talented and poised pitcher he is. Then after the surgery, they stayed on him enough to track his rehab and discover what a tremendous worth ethic he possesses."
Coffey said he has yet to face any setbacks in his rehabilitation. He’ll report to the Orioles’ training base in Sarasota, Fla., on Monday to work with their staff for two weeks, go home for two weeks, then return to Sarasota for instructional leagues. He should be ready to pitch in games at the start of next season.
The Orioles also provided Coffey $240,000 through MLB’s scholarship plan should he later decided to attend college. Despite his large bonus, he still grappled with the decision to bypass Duke.
"It was really tough," he said. "It was probably tougher on my dad because he’s very education-oriented and he was very excited about Duke. It was probably the toughest decision I ever made."
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