Luke Bailey Joins ‘From Phenom To The Farm:’ Episode 4

Image credit: (Photo by Chris Proctor/Four Seam Images)

“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.

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Achieving success in professional baseball boils down to a multitude of factors, all playing their part in deciding if a player sticks in the show, stalls out in short-season, and everything in-between. It takes things like luck, opportunity, and circumstance, but especially skill and health.

Luke Bailey without a doubt had the former, but could never seem to have any fortune with the latter.

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As Bailey’s high school senior season hit the mid-point, the catcher from LaGrange, Georgia seemed ticketed for future baseball stardom. The previous summer Bailey had cemented himself as a top catching prospect in the Class of 2009, and despite scouts noticing he was pressing a bit at the plate during his final high school spring, he was still holding top prospect status. Evaluators lauded his defense, toughness, and athleticism.

By March his Auburn commitment for all intents and purposes was a mere formality; Bailey was no-doubt headed to the professional ranks, possibly ticketed for the 1st round.

He’d been ignoring some early-season elbow soreness, chalking it up to his arm just getting used to the in-season throwing routine. Closing out a heavily-scouted game during a chilly game during Spring Break, Bailey walked off the mound feeling a burn in his elbow.

“It was just that quick, as soon as I tore it,” said Bailey, remembering the game over ten years later. ”All the scouts in the stands, they stood up and walked out before the game was over.”

Soon after, Bailey underwent Tommy John surgery. Suddenly Luke Bailey’s path to pro baseball was cloudy. The 1st round was almost certainly out of the question; even the possibility of finding a team willing to meet his signing bonus demand while his post-surgery arm sat in a sling seemed to be doubtful. For a time post-surgery, Bailey’s immediate future looked less like pro baseball and more like heading to junior college to rebuild his draft stock for 2010.

However, come June the Rays saw an opportunity to nab a premium talent in the draft at an injury discount. They used their 4th round pick to select Bailey and sign him to an over-slot bonus of $750,000.

Though still facing months of rehab, Bailey could breathe a little easier knowing he wouldn’t have to delay his dreams of becoming a professional. Unfortunately in retrospect, the surgery that at that point represented just a bump in the road, might’ve just been an omen of more things to come.

A few years later, heading into his age-22 season, Bailey’s prospect star was fading. Since signing he’d endured multiple trips to the DL, as well as a bout with the yips. His professional career had pushed him to the brink both mentally and physically in a short amount of time, and Bailey was informed that this was a “put up or shut up” season for him in a return to High-A Charlotte.

During the ensuing summer season, Bailey’s tough luck continued. Two separate hit-by-pitch incidents that each resulted in an extended stay on the DL limited him to just 43 games and career lows in nearly every offensive category.

Looking back on his career low point, Bailey remarked, “It kinda starts to feel like baseball is chewing you up and spitting you out.”

“You get very, very humbled. Very fast.”

In our latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’, former Rays prospect Luke Bailey walks us though his career story. Life as a young top prospect, the physical and mental toil that pro baseball can take on a player, and finding joy in the game again far from the prospect lists.

To get new episodes of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’ as they’re released, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and leave a rating & review.

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