MadFriars: Things are looking up RHP Colin Rea
SAN ANTONIO — Some players glide through their amateur and minor league careers, unencumbered by any setbacks or doubts as they reach their dreams of playing in the major leagues.
But that scenario happens about as often as someone wins at Powerball. For most players, reaching the big leagues is a hard slog that involves making physical – and more importantly, mental – adjustments to continue playing and chasing a big league career.
Right-handed pitcher Colin Rea had plenty of adjustments to make as he played at three different colleges and after he struggled mightily at A-ball. But now things are looking up for the 24-year-old, who was recently named to not only the Texas All-Star League game but also selected for the prestigious SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, which features some of the top prospects in the game and will be played on All-Star Sunday, July 12, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
"The biggest thing is just getting off to a good start," Rea said on his success in San Antonio. "In the past, it has been a little slow to develop. I’ve always had a decent spring, but then I struggled."
"My self-confidence is better this year. I’m just trying to throw my best pitch and if I can do that, I have confidence that I will get the guy out."
Although he only sports a 3-2 win-loss record, the six-foot-five, 225-pound Rea has a 1.08 ERA in 75 innings this season with the Missions and has struck out 60 batters against only 11 walks. He is leading the Texas League in a variety of statistical categories, most notably holding the opposition to a .185 batting average.
"He has excellent command of his pitches and the one pitch that really sticks out is his splitter, which has been really effective against lefties," said Mike Saeger, the Missions’ play-by-play announcer.
"He has a lot of poise on the mound and really hasn’t given up that much hard contact this season."
Rea started off at Northern Iowa University, but when the school discontinued baseball after his freshman year he was forced to go to St. Petersburg Community College and then onto Indiana State for his junior season. He was drafted by the Padres in the 12th round of the 2011 draft and was seen as a guy with good stuff, but still learning how to pitch.
"The biggest thing that Colin always had to work on was to believe that he was as good as all of us thought he was," said Randy Smith by phone before a recent scouting assignment, the Padres’ former Vice President of Player Development and now special advisor in the organization.
"He always showed up early to spring and just has a great work ethic. Great frame, good sinker and the biggest part of his development in the past few years has been the emergence of his secondary stuff."
Rea showed glimpses of what he could do early on but then struggled with a 5-10 record in 2012 in Low-A Fort Wayne and had a disastrous 0-5 record with a 6.07 ERA in 2013 in Lake Elsinore before bouncing back with the TinCaps that season with a 2.09 ERA in 43 innings.
His strength has always been his ability to throw a fastball on the outside corner of the plate. His downfall was not coming inside enough and trying too often to make the perfect pitch.
A significant part of his improvement came last year in Lake Elsinore where, under the tutelage of former Storm pitching coach Bronswell Patrick (who now holds the same position with Triple-A El Paso), he began to not only challenge hitters more, but learned how to pitch inside.
"I always told him, and this is especially true against right-handed batters, that you have to establish the inside so you can get to the outside corner," Patrick said on his advice to Rea.
"You don’t want the batter leaning over the dish. He’s hit some guys because he has thrown inside – and that is all right because it wasn’t his intention. Because he is throwing to both sides of the plate, he has become so much better. "
With the Storm in 2014, Rea had a 3.88 ERA in 139 innings and built on a strong year to become now, arguably one of the better pitchers in the Padres’ system.
He throws a mix of two and four-seam fastballs that top out in the low- to mid-90s with his strength in being able to keep the ball down. He also has a curve, cutter and a splitter that has taken the place of a change-up which always gave him difficulty.
"I’ve been throwing the four-seamer a little more. Sometimes the two is better than the four but if it’s a choice of command or movement, I will take command any day."
In the off-season, Rea, along with his teammate and fellow pitcher Justin Hancock, lost one of their best friends when Matt Wisler was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton, Jr.
The three of them had been off-season roommates since they were drafted in 2011 and as most pitchers do, constantly engaged in arguments over who was the worse, not the best, hitter among the three; which is something akin to being the tallest munchkin in the Wizard of Oz. As he was leaving the Padres, Wisler jokingly reminded me that MadFriars should continue to ask both Rea and Hancock about their hitting at every opportunity.
While Colin has been working diligently on improving his bunting, he chuckles when asked about his progress with his swing after such a long layoff. But to really get him to smile, ask him about a scenario on what his "approach" would be to getting Wisler out at the plate if he found himself facing him.
"Before I threw a pitch I would hold up my hand so he could see the four-seam fastball grip as I yelled ‘Fastball’," laughed Rea. "I wouldn’t want him getting confused."
"He would then strike out on three pitches. He’s not even going to be able to foul one off."
You can follow all of the action in the Padres’ minor league system @madfriars on Twitter and at madfriars.com.
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