Inside Rays prospect Kevin Padlo’s scary ‘non-baseball illness’

Intense daily headaches derailed the first major-league training camp for the infielder with a powerful swing and bright future.
Infielder Kevin Padlo is back in Rays camp after some scary medical issues.
Infielder Kevin Padlo is back in Rays camp after some scary medical issues. [ TAMPA BAY RAYS | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published March 5, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE — You’re 23, and like others your age you feel invincible. You’re excited about being added to the Rays’ 40-man roster for the first time and being part of major-league spring training. You’re eager enough to come in early from California to start preparing.

But you can’t sleep. You can’t function normally during the day.

Your head aches like never before, and all the time.

“It just kind of came out of nowhere,’’ you say. “One night I just had trouble sleeping. Then I started to have the head problems. And they started bothering me more and more every day to the point where I felt it was an issue. … I just kind of wanted to get it looked at it and see if there was something more involved.’’

Your team puts out an ominous-sounding statement that you are sidelined due to “a non-baseball illness.’’ Your parents fly in to be at your side as you are undergoing myriad tests at a hospital. Your buddies and teammates text to ask what’s up.

You are Kevin Padlo, a corner infielder with a powerful swing and a future, and this isn’t at all how your spring was supposed to go.

“I’m sure there is a lot of excitement for him in the off-season, he worked really hard and then come in Port Charlotte and you kind of get smacked in the face a little bit by something that you can’t really control,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “So it’s unfortunate. It is very real life.’’

Padlo headed back to the Tampa Bay area for tests not knowing how scared to be. The default can be to start with brain tumor and work your way backward.

Padlo got asked about concussions and said he wasn’t aware of any. Had MRIs and CT scans of all parts of his upper body. Saw neurologists, endocrinologists, cardiologists, and others.

“Doctors I’ve never heard of before,’’ he joked.

Padlo took the good out of the news from doctors saying after each round of tests they couldn’t find anything major wrong. And from team physician Dr. John Gross telling him they were “starting to check a lot of boxes and everything has looked good” thus far.

“Every day I’m just getting a bigger and bigger smile on my face and more and more relief,’’ Padlo said. “They did a great job assuring me there was nothing life-threatening going on."

Eventually, Padlo said, the diagnosis was made that the headaches were just that — headaches.

Maybe caused by stress and/or anxiety, presenting a bit like a migraine, but just “daily persistent headaches.’’

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In even simpler terms?

“Kind of like an ongoing headache that nobody really knows why it comes or why it’s there,’’ Padlo said. “But you kind of treat it the same way you would treat a migraine or the same way you would treat any other kind of thing.

“Just take headache medication and kind of just relax and know that it’s not anything life-threatening. So just kind of breathe your way through it and realize that it’s not such a big deal, and as long as you can have that ease of mind it will be okay.’’

The medication has helped.

“I wouldn’t say completely cured; they’re definitely still there,’’ he said. “I’m definitely in a better state of mind with them so I can deal with them better and I know what’s going on so I can deal with it better. And hopefully, it will just continue to get better and in no time I’ll be cured and not feel them.’’

After returning to Port Charlotte last week for some rest and alone time, Padlo on Wednesday rejoined the team. He has permission to participate in limited physical activity for now, with the hope he will soon be cleared to get back on the field and to the business of furthering his career.

His teammates welcomed him back.

“It’s good to see his face in the locker room,’’ minor-league infielder/outfielder Mile Mastrobuoni said. “And you could see it in a lot of guys, their faces were lighting up.’’

Even before the medical scare, this was to be a big year for Padlo, who was acquired from Colorado as a low-level minor-leaguer along with Corey Dickerson in the January 2016 trade of German Marquez and Jake McGee.

After playing five pro seasons without getting out of Class A due in part to injuries, Padlo put together a breakthrough 2019. He opened at Double-A Montgomery and played his way to Triple-A, hitting .265 with a career-high 21 homers and 31 doubles, plus 62 RBIs and a .927 OPS combined.

Despite missing the 2½ weeks of workouts and the chance to play in big-league exhibitions, Padlo feels like he can get caught up quickly and be ready for the April 9 start of the minor-league season. Getting enough reps at third base and swings in the cage are good problems to have.

“When we finally got all the tests to rule everything out and I had that ease of mind,’’ he said, “now my focus has finally shifted back to, 'Okay, let’s get this baseball thing going.’ ‘’

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.