Pitching for the Double-A San Antonio Missions in the Texas League, the 24-year-old Rea has been excellent in his first three starts, pitching 21 innings with a 16/1 K/BB ratio, 15 hits allowed, and a 0.86 ERA. He was pretty good last year in the California League as well, 11-8 in 28 starts with a 3.38 ERA and 118/37 K/BB over 139 innings. It is early of course but so far the transition to Double-A competition in 2015 has been very smooth.
Rea was a 12th round pick in 2011 out of Indiana State University. His background is a bit unusual. He grew up in Cascade, Iowa, population 2,159 in the 2010 United States Census. Graduating high school in 2008, he was an athletic 6-4, 180 pound stringbean with a loose, projectable arm. However, his mechanics needed cleaning and his best fastball was about 86 MPH. He was on the radar of Midwest area scouts but it was felt that he would be best-served by going to college and getting stronger. He wasn't drafted.
He started off at the University of Northern Iowa but that program was killed by budget cuts after his freshman year in 2009. He transferred to St. Petersburg Junior College for 2010 but did not pitch well due to command issues, with a 7.15 ERA and a 25/20 K/BB in 23 innings. He landed at Indiana State University for 2011 and improved enough (3.68 ERA, 76/48 K/BB in 95 innings, just 69 hits) to earn a spot in the draft.
I had an opportunity to see him pitch in college and he was quite interesting. He had matured physically and was now 6-5, 205, with easy low-90s velocity. His slider and change-up still needed work, an issue which showed up sabermetrically in the low strikeout rate, but there was a lot of raw material for the Padres to work with.
This video contains some shots of Rea pitching in college:
Rea scuffled a bit in A-ball, being hit hard due to command issues in the Cal League in 2013 (6.07 ERA, 45/39 K/BB in 44 innings). However, he took a huge step forward in '14, with a massive reduction in walks (8.16 BB/9 dropped to 2.4) without loss of strikeouts. His slider and change-up have improved steadily and so far his command has been even better this year.
We need to see how the rest of the season goes, but Rea has good sleeper markers and could sneak up on us as a fourth starter candidate or bullpen asset.