Interestingly enough, today’s 40-man roster member, Colin Rea, is actually pretty similar to yesterday’s #30 ranking left-hander, Robbie Erlin. Not only are both coming off Tommy John surgeries, but they also have somewhat similar pitching profiles. Neither overpowers hitters, and both tend to pitch for weak contact by painting the corners rather than blowing hitters away with strikeout stuff.
Anyway, Rea was selected by the Padres in the 12th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. Rea started 15 games in his first year of professional baseball in short-season ball, throwing 53 total innings and having a good deal of success. Rea’s profile was clear from the start: not a lot of strikeouts (only 43 in those 53 innings), but a solid overall profile helped along with a high ground ball rate and a low HR/FB rate. Rea began the 2012 season in Fort Wayne, where he remained all season. Rea saw a fall in his strikeout rate and ground ball rate as well as a rise in his walk rate, HR/FB rate, and overall ERA.
Determined to bounce back, Rea threw exactly 43 innings in Fort Wayne in 2013 and 43 innings in Lake Elsinore in 2013. Despite his success at the beginning of the year, Rea got torched at the end of the year in Elsinore, striking out 45 batters, but walking 39. Although it appeared Rea had more strikeout potential, the elevated walk rate and poor contact numbers doomed him. Rea spent the entirety of the following season back in Lake Elsinore, where he made adjustments and struck out 118 batters to just 37 walks in 119 innings.
After dominating to start the 2015 season in his first taste of Double-A, Rea was quickly moved up to Triple-A before earning a late season promotion to the big leagues. Rea was underwhelming once he got to the big leagues, as evidenced by his 4.26 ERA over six starts, but he did show enough to warrant himself a closer look in 2016. Rea continued to pitch more to contact in 2016, but it didn’t work out nearly as well for him in the big leagues. In just over 100 innings, including some with the Miami Marlins following a midseason trade, Rea put up a 4.82 ERA. After being traded to Miami, Rea ended up injured and traded back to the Padres as part of a broader issue with the Padres’ front office reportedly falsifying medical records. Days after being returned to the Padres, Rea was diagnosed with a torn UCL, ending his 2016 season.
The story for Rea is the same as Erlin, as Rea did not make a single appearance in 2017 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Prior to his injury, Rea was using his fastball just over 60 percent of the time, right in line with Erlin’s usage, while using his cutter and curveball almost identically (17.3 percent) and his split-fingered fastball just over five percent of the time. Rea consistently sits in the low 90s with his fastball while his cutter sits in the upper 80s, his splitter sits in the mid-80’s and his curveball sits in the upper 70’s.
In terms of pitch value, none of Rea’s offerings really grade out well, as all were given negative grades by Fangraphs’ Pitch Info pitch value. It should be interesting to see if Rea’s arsenal changes at all once he returns from his injury this spring. Based on the pitch mix he was using, it’s hard to squint and see Rea as anything more than an innings-eating backend starter.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Just like with Robbie Erlin, there’s really no way of knowing how Colin Rea will look when he returns from his injury. Rea has had somewhat middling success so far over his short big league career, and it’s hard to see him making big strides coming back after not pitching for a year and a half. With that being said, there is value in a backend starter who can eat innings, and Rea appears to be just that. However, it remains unclear where Rea would fit in once the Padres next wave of pitching talent finds its way to the majors. At that point, Rea, along with Erlin, could find himself on the outside looking in.