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Padres prospect Colin Rea returns from back injury

Photo by Joel Dinda via Creative Commons

Back in late April, we looked at San Diego Padres pitching prospect Colin Reawho was off to a fast start for the San Antonio Missions in the Double-A Texas League. At the time, Rea had a 16/1 K/BB in 21 innings with a 0.86 ERA, a tiny sample size but enough to make him an interesting, talented, no-hype arm to watch.

Rea continued pitching well in four May starts until going down with back spasms about a month ago. He was activated this past weekend and showed no ill effects, throwing four perfect innings (with six strikeouts) against Corpus Christi on June 13th. He's now pitched 56 innings over nine starts with a 1.29 ERA, a 50/9 K/BB with 37 hits allowed.

Back in April, we noted that Rea always had good arm strength but he was a cold-weather origin pitcher who needed time to refine his secondary pitches.

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.

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.

Well, we have several weeks of additional data now. Rea has remained effective and shows no ill effects from the back spasms that cost him the second half of May.

Here's a video clip from Saturday's start, showing the low effort mechanics. These are smoother and more refined than when I saw him in college.

He still looks like a very intriguing prospect and with the Padres entering a rebuilding mode, he could get a chance sooner than people expect. Keep an eye on him.