The Red Sox could have got a first-round talent in the third-round in catcher Austin Rei. (Photo courtesy of Scott Eklund/Red Box) Pictures

Red Sox Minor League Notebook (draft edition): Austin Rei, third-round steal?; How Tate Matheny differs from dad Mike

Ryan Hannable
June 11, 2015 - 5:41 am
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The major league baseball draft is all about finding the best player available when making selections and finding a few steals along the way. The Red Sox may have got a steal with their third-round pick in University of Washington catcher Austin Rei. Rei, considered one of the top catching prospects in the draft before this spring, suffered a torn ligament in his thumb in the fifth game of his Huskies season. He returned for the team's final 25 games and put up a slash line of .330/.445/.681 with seven homers and 20 RBIs. Known for his defense, the right-handed hitter and junior was the fifth catcher selected in the entire draft, but his Washington coach Lindsay Meggs believes the Red Sox got a bargain. "I think realistically, the Red Sox kind of got a steal in the third-round," Meggs said via phone this week. "When he arrived here he was really, toolsy," he added. "He had a plus-plus arm and that was evident and we saw that in high school, but he had some small detail things to clean up. He became a very good receiver. He blocks as well as anyone I've ever had and the arm has just gotten electric. In terms of a catch and throw guy, at the time of the draft he'd become the best catch and throw guy on the West Coast. If he stayed healthy, I think you're looking at a guy that could've gone in the first round." Meggs said Rei may have rushed his return back a bit because he wanted to get back on the field to try and help his team. Despite playing in only 25 games while coming off the injury, he was still able to make a huge impact, earning team MVP honors voted by his teammates. The coach noted not once did he complain about the injury. "You have to give him credit because I think, based on how well people saw him in the scouting community his first few years here, he probably could have come back a little slower from his thumb surgery without the urgency and sort of played it safe and rode it out and still had been a reasonable draft pick even if he didn't take the field this year," Meggs said. "He wanted to get on the field. He missed his teammates. He loves the game. He wanted to help us. He was voted MVP of our team by his teammates and I think he literally played the last month of the season. That's the type of impact he made in such a short period of time." Even in such a short span, Rei had his best season offensively. His average was his best in three years, as he hit .220 and .314 in his first two seasons respectively. He also hit a total of just two homers entering the year, but finished the season with seven. His coach said his offense really developed over his three years, which complements his defense behind the plate. "He came here as somebody who had that one plus tool, which was the arm and was a guy who people thought might develop offensively down the road," Meggs said. "That part has come on really like gangbusters, not just the power, but the ability to hit the ball to all fields. Really, you have yourself a guy that has a chance to do both (hit and catch) really well. Potentially in the middle of the order, and the ability to shut the running game down." It isn't just on the field that Rei excels, it's off the field as well. Meggs noted how the team and coaches split into six pods once a week as a way to talk about things outside of baseball, such as school and college life. Rei was in Meggs' pod and he recalled all the stories Rei told with his intelligence coming out and how he's much more than a just baseball player. While he will miss his presence behind the plate, his coach said he will miss more the conversations they shared during their pod meetings. "He's a good teammate," Meggs said. "He's a guy all of our guys love to be around. You would describe him as a free spirit. He's certainly not a quiet guy. He's outspoken, he's really intelligent -- his mom went to Stanford, his dad went to Cal, they are a very educated family. He was a good student. This is a guy who wants to be a leader and understands how to run the show behind he plate." SON OF A MAJOR LEAGUE MANAGER Although he may not be as talented as some players selected behind him in the draft, what Red Sox fourth-round pick Tate Matheny has is more first-hand major league knowledge than likely anyone in the draft. Tate is the son of Cardinals manager Mike. "He grew up around major leaguer's and his dad has been a tremendous positive influence in his life," Missouri State coach Keith Guttin said via phone. "He's been around it and been able to model big leaguers his whole life." Guttin said Mike has kept his distance, despite being such a short distance from his son. "Mike's not your hands on, I'm going to coach my son even though I am three hours away guy," he said. "That's not him. He's kinds of hands off except Tate would go to him for advice." With having his dad reach the World Series as manager, as well as playing 13 seasons in the majors, there might be some pressure to perform at a level like Mike, but that isn't how Tate is wired. "I don't think how he operates," Guttin said. "He uses it as a positive knowing that he has his dad to rely on for advice." Personality wise, the two are very different as Mike is very even-keeled and usually doesn't show much emotion, while Tate is very outgoing, talking to anyone and everyone. "He's very outgoing," Guttin said. "He's a people person. I'd say Mike is more low-key. His dad and I joke about it and call him a schmoozer -- he knows everyone, everyone knows him and likes him." On the field, Matheny had a solid junior campaign leading his Missouri State team to the NCAA tournament before being knocked out by Arkansas earlier in the week. The right-handed hitting outfielder hit .291, but had an on-base percentage of .417. "Gap-to-gap guy with strength, but more of a line drive type hitter," Guttin said. "His tools are good, but his instincts are really, really good," his coach added. "He's what baseball people call a ball player. He does something every day to help the team win." Tate was drafted by the Cardinals in 2012, but he didn't sign. Mike was happy the Cardinals didn't draft him again, as he didn't want to be in the same organization as him. "No, the Cardinals are not allowed to draft him," Mike said earlier this year. "It's not fair to him. It really isn't. There would be too much on him and there would always be that little bit of (wonder) that it wasn't all that he did, that it had something to do with me." Mike is likely pleased with the Red Sox taking him -- a team in the American League and such a well-respected organization. MOVE LIKE JAGGER The first high schooler the Red Sox took in this year's draft was in the fifth round when they took Jagger Rusconi out of West Ranch, California. He played shortstop all throughout high school, but the Red Sox announced the pick as an outfielder. "He played shortstop for us for all four years on our varsity team, but I think the Red Sox are looking to move him to center field," his coach Casey Burrill said via phone. "His skill set is all about speed. He is the fastest kid in Southern California. He's a switch-hitter, a leadoff guy -- someone who can put pressure on defenses, steal bases. That is where he excels." He added: "I envision him, me personally, and I think the Red Sox agree with this, I think he fits the role of a switch-hit leadoff hitter that plays well in center field." He is listed at 6-feet, 180 pounds and as a switch-hitter batted .416 with four homers, 16 walks and 11 strikeouts in 25 games this spring. Burill said it wasn't a surprise the Red Sox took him as they were a constant presence at his games and sent in a cross-checker recently. "They were very active in him watching play," he said. Burill said the Red Sox spoke to him a few times and asked more off field questions such as what Rusconi was like as a person and teammate, could he handle being away from his parents and the grind of minor league baseball, etc. He said these answers were all very easy, as Rusconi is a better person than he is baseball player. "He's very quiet, very mature, a fierce competitor, not one that is going to a ra-ra guy," Burill said. "It's funny because my wife says he's the kind of kid that some parents want to adopt the kid. For as talented of a kid he is, his just a really good person. He's probably a better person than a baseball player." Rusconi's draft stock rose significantly over the course of the season. "At the start of the season we thought, maybe 10-11 (round) somewhere in there, but that kept getting lower and lower until the week before the draft where a scout said maybe between 4-6 and sure enough, the fifth round he went," Burill said. The switch-hitter has committed to USC, where ironically Burill went and played, and is very close with USC head coach Dan Hubbs -- he was even in his wedding. Selfishly, Burill said he would like him to go to his alma mater and play for his friend at USC, but ultimately he said he believes Rusconi will forgo his scholarship and sign a professional contract. "I think he's on a different path," he said. "I think he's looking forward to giving major league baseball a shot right away. I think he's very excited to do the minor league baseball thing. I think he said if a team committed to him in the top 10 rounds, I think he would sign. I do think that will be the case. I think he will sign." PROJECTED NO. 3 BIG LEAGUE STARTER? In the eighth round, the Red Sox selected high school left-hander Logan Allen out of the IMG Academy in Florida, who stands 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. "No. 1 starter for me, great kid, good potential," Chris Sabo, his coach said via phone. "I think it's a pretty good pick in the eighth round. We actually thought he'd be a little higher, but it's pretty good." He added: "I would say he's not a power guy, but he's a good pitcher. He's probably 91-92 (mph), but he throws strikes, he competes. He's one of those guys." The left-hander played first base in addition to pitcher up until this season, as he wanted to focus on pitching with the draft approaching. Sabo said Allen was his best first baseman with IMG Academy being one of the top 20 high school teams in the entire country. Allen throws a fastball, curveball and changeup -- all for strikes. This season he went 8-0 in eight starts with a 0.93 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 45 innings of work. Sabo projects him as a No. 3 starter in the majors one day. "Logan is very outgoing," he said. "He's a great kid. He leads by example. He's not afraid to share his opinions if something was wrong. He's probably our top leader. He was one of our captains. He's a super kid. Off the charts makeup." Being selected in the eighth round, when many had him projected higher and having a commitment to the University of South Carolina, it is likely it will take an over slot signing bonus to get Allen into a Red Sox uniform. According to Citizen-Times, that will be the case as Allen tells the paper he has verbally agreed to a signing bonus of $725,000-$750,000. There has been no confirmation from the team or any local reporters. For all our coverage of the 2015 MLB draft, click here.

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