Perseverance is one of many words that could be used to describe the baseball career of Mark Coley so far.
The former Rhode Island Ram was selected 503rd overall in the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft on July 11, by the Miami Marlins.
This selection made Coley only the second player in the University’s history to be drafted inside the top 20 rounds. Infielder Chris Hess was selected by the New York Yankees in the 17th round of the 2017 MLB Draft to serve as the sole precedent.
Coley’s MLB Draft journey dates all the way back in his second year of college, a long process that started with a single conversation.
“Summer of my sophomore year was the first time I actually talked to a scout with some serious intentions,” Coley said. “I got invited to a Yankees-Red Sox prospect game, I think that was summer of 2020, and got some attention there and had some meetings with teams that following winter.”
However, following that stretch the conversations of professional baseball seemed to wither away, leaving Coley to work on his game in peace until an important suitor for a professional avenue approached Coley.
“Teams followed me but there wasn’t much talking back and forth until this past year where I feel like I developed a lot more,” Coley said. “I grew into my body more and got a lot more skilled, and was more consistent on the baseball field and that’s where things started to blossom for me. Then the Marlins came into the picture.”
Consequently, a worst case scenario arose for Coley… a broken jaw coming in a mid-week match up versus Northeastern on Mar. 29 that left him out of the lineup for 50 days. An injury of the magnitude this late into Coley’s collegiate career introduced anxiety and doubt about his future to creep in.
“It was really bad,” Coley remarked. “The first two weeks I was just bedridden, just following the team on my phone, it was awful. I had no clue whether I would be able to come back or not, I was still waiting to hear back from the doctors, and they finally set a date for May 15.”
It was then when Coley’s perseverance prevailed and his journey to a return on the diamond began with a simple adage.
“There’s an age old saying that my coach says a lot and I hear it all throughout baseball and that’s ‘control the controllable’ or ‘control what you can control,’” Coley said. “The only thing I had control over was my rehab and my thought process through all of that.”
Coley made his return in the final series of the season against Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) on May 18, and the Marlins made sure to attend. With the Marlins in attendance, Coley hit a home run in his first game since his injury, another step towards his goal.
“I came back for the VCU series and they saw me which was good because I did well there, then they sent another scout out to see me at the A-10 Tournament and I did enough there for them to invite me to a pre draft workout, and then from there I did well and they saw enough to get me drafted,” Coley said.
Coley had spoken with the Marlins before but it was never a guarantee he would be taken by them, and when the third day of the draft came along he began to worry.
“Going into Day three they called my agent and said ‘we’re only going to take one outfielder. I kept seeing pitchers get taken and I was like ‘alright it’s now or never’” Coley said.
Coley described the moment of being drafted, and how it felt to be able to celebrate with his family and have the feeling that the next step in his future was secure.
“I got the call and felt a lot of relief, I think I fell to my knees. I hugged my parents, it was just a really happy moment.”
Coley arrived at the Marlins complex in the days following the draft and learned how large the difference is from playing college ball in Kingston to a Major League organization in Florida.
“You just have to do what you need to do to get better, it’s much more professional of an atmosphere,” he said. “Even in the locker room, show up and keep your things neat.”
Coaching is different as well with the team trying to learn more about Coley and his fellow draft mates.
“It’s a lot of observation right now, every time you hit there’s two, three eyes on you,” he said. “(They’re) Evaluating, recording everything.”
Coley understands that this is a new challenge and that there may be things an organization like the Marlins will want him to do differently, whether it is the baseball side of things or an everyday life change. He said that he knows he will improve over time and mentioned something the Marlins have done to help himself and other draftees along their journeys.
“They told us they’re going to leave us alone for the first month that we’re down here,” he said. “Telling us ‘do everything you did to get yourself here, you made the team now there is no pressure. Go in and do your work.”
Looking back to his days in Keaney Blue, Coley recognized that Head Coach Raphael Cerrato and the rest of the coaching staff instilled a mindset in him over his years at the University of Rhode Island that left him engineered for success at the next level.
“They really took the time to develop me not only as a baseball player but as a person as well, and I think both those are important in becoming a pro athlete and getting to this point because if I had one without the other I don’t think I would have gotten here,” Coley said. “Just from the time they recruited me to the time I left and played my final game for [Cerrato], he always believed in me, sometimes some tough love, but always what we thought he needed to get me to the next level.”
Coley’s journey in professional baseball has just begun and as the outfielder trains in Florida he believes in his talent and work ethic and believes he can become the fifth player from the University of Rhode Island to play in the MLB.