There was a midseason afternoon when Dean Deetz walked into the locker room and his coach had no idea who he was.
Roger Ward, coach of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, knew Deetz as a fireballer whose hair drifted down past his neck and onto his shoulders. For Deetz, the shaggy hair represented a return from rehab.
"Coming back after Tommy John," Deetz said, "I thought it would be cool to grow it out."
In the middle of the season at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, or NEO, Deetz's velocity was rising in a quick way. It became apparent that his college life might not last much longer. Deetz was headed to the Draft and had to look the part.
So when he walked into the locker room for the first time as a short-haired, 20-year-old young adult ready to be drafted, his coach had didn't recognize him for a moment.
"Woah, I didn't know you cleaned up so nice, Deetz," Ward told him.
Whether it made a difference or not still isn't clear. Either way, the Houston Astros drafted Deetz with pick No. 316 in the 11th round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. He plans to sign and join the Astros organization as a kid who blew out his ulnar collateral ligament in high school and kept on pitching.
Deetz came to Houston for a workout on June 3, and impressed those in the organization -- including Nolan Ryan -- according to Astros' scouting director Mike Elias.
"Dean Deetz has a really good arm," Elias said. "We were a little surprised he was still on the board, so we went and grabbed him because I think he would've gone in that 11th round."
"I was actually a little surprised that he went as late as he did," Ward said. "If he came back, I think he easily could've been [picked in the first five rounds next year]."
The day Deetz blew out his elbow was the last day of summer ball before his senior year of high school. He came in to close the game out.
Windup. Pitch. Pop.
"I didn't know what was going on," Deetz said. "I threw another one and it hurt even worse. My elbow was completely numb all the way to my fingers."
Deetz didn't go to a doctor right away. The fall was approaching, and he was a star running back in Nix, Mo. He played his senior football season and had interest from NAIA schools. Deetz could throw a football without any problems. When it was the spring and time to pitch again, the pain returned. It was time to see a doctor. He thought his baseball career was over. His 93-mph fastball was rendered worthless. He would remain a running back.
Through a workout connection, Dr. James Andrews, one of the leaders in Tommy John surgeries, would operate on Deetz. A baseball life was still possible. After all, if anyone could make him better again, Andrews was a safe bet.
After his surgery, Deetz took a year off from everything except baseball. He didn't go to school. He went to rehab in Clearwater, Fla. When the 2014 season came around, he was ready, and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M would be the place to show it. He came back throwing 88-91 mph -- maybe 92 on a good day.
"I didn't want to go as hard I could," Deetz said. "I didn't want to hurt my arm again."
Yet with rehab and weightlifting, Deetz's velocity returned, and in a better way than before. Already a good athlete, he was bigger now, stronger. By the end of the season, he was throwing 92-94 mph -- and in front of scouts, he hit 98 mph multiple times.
In his first collegiate season after Tommy John, Deetz went 4-1 with an ERA of 2.83, striking out 56 batters and walking 30 in 41 1/3 innings.
The walks and control are a true concern. Ward said Deetz has a front-side problem with his delivery, where his leg swings open like a gate. It's something Deetz is trying to fix. Ward said it's a problem that can be corrected with a good pitching coach. And when the issue does get addressed, that velocity will keep rising.
"I think he'll throw 100 mph someday," Ward said. "When he was on, he was unhittable."
The front-side problem causes an inconsistent release point. Ward said Deetz once threw a no-hitter, but still gave up two runs in the first inning. He said the inning went walk, strikeout, hit batter, hit batter, strikeout, walk, hit batter, strikeout.
Control issues are common for pitchers coming off Tommy John, along with young pitchers who throw hard. Deetz falls in both categories. It's just a matter of whether or not it can all come together.
For now, Deetz will keep the hair short. The day he'll grow it back out, is the day he starts in the Major Leagues.
Mike Vernon is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.