Red Sox third-round pick Austin Rei officially signed Tuesday. (Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

Red Sox Minor League Notebook: Third-rounder Austin Rei goes from 'most frustrating thing' to 'amazing' experience at Fenway

Ryan Hannable
July 02, 2015 - 5:12 am
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To say it's been an up-and-down few months for Red Sox third-round pick Austin Rei would be an understatement. Rei went from the most frustrated he's ever been back in February, to now fulfilling his dream of being a professional baseball player. After a 41-17 season during his sophomore year and a trip to the NCAA Regionals, the catcher couldn't wait for his junior season with the Washington Huskies, especially having two years under his belt in the Pac-12 where he hit .314 overall with two home runs and 28 RBIs as a sophomore. But, just five games into this past season Rei suffered a UCL injury in his left thumb on Feb. 19 and was limited to just 25 games. "It was probably the most frustrating thing baseball related, injury related, thing ever," Rei said in Lowell last weekend before he officially signed Tuesday. "I knew I had good sophomore season. Going into this year I was extremely excited about my opportunities -- both for myself and for the University of Washington. It was the end of the fifth game of the season. Just so early. We didn't know what we had, I personally didn't know what I had. "I was out eight weeks. I was in a little cast. Had to use a bag when I was in the shower, but I couldn't watch batting practice. It was so frustrating for me not being able to hit. Eight long weeks before I could hit and 12 before I could catch. It was some of the longest weeks ever. It was pretty bad." With the team not doing as well as the Huskies and Rei would have liked and just how hard it was watching from the sidelines, he returned for the final month of the season, even if it was a little too soon, which he admitted was the case. "I absolutely did," he said. "We weren't doing so well. After my sophomore season, coming off a 40-win season, it was nice to be used to winning. Losing as many as we did and the way that we did, all the one-run losses, it was tough not to be able to contribute. I definitely think I rushed back into it, but I had all the confidence in the world that I was safe in the hands of my trainers, strength coaches and all that. They were really helpful with me." Despite coming back from the injury, Rei still put up very respectable numbers, playing in 20 of his 25 games after the injury. Overall, he hit .330 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs on the year. Going into the season some pegged Rei as a potential first-round pick. While he said coming back from the injury too soon likely didn't affect his draft selection, maybe the injury in general did, which he completely understood. "No. I really don't," he said when asked if coming back too soon caused him to drop in the draft. "I came back pretty strong right away, so I don't think it affected my draft stock in a negative way. I think the injury in general might have. It's completely understandable. It's a big question mark, especially for a catcher -- a thumb injury. I couldn't really feel more healthy right now, so I am really excited about it." Rei was selected in the third-round, No. 81 overall by the Red Sox. He's excited to join an organization which puts as much emphasis on the defensive part of catching as the Sox do because that is what he's known for and excels at. The right-handed hitter said growing up he idolized Ivan Rodriguez. "Defensive guys, sometimes they don't get the recognition," Rei said. "[Yadier Molina] does it better than anyone out there and he gets a lot of recognition, but there are so many other good catchers that get overlooked I think. I hold a lot of pride in my defense and whatever come offensively is just a bonus." After being drafted back on June 9, Rei finally was able to travel to the East Coast and visit Fenway Park as part of the signing process. While at Fenway last week he had all kinds of medical tests done during the day and then was able to take in a Red Sox-Orioles game at night. It was his second time at Fenway. "I actually took a tour after the Field of Dreams tournament at Cooperstown," Rei said. "We drove down to Boston and took a tour before the game started, so I actually didn't get to see a game. A couple days ago I saw any doctor associated with the Red Sox. Took a couple MRI's to make sure everything was good. A couple physical tests, but I got to see really every part of Fenway. Inside, outside. The interns had a suite box up top next to the press box and that was very cool. That was awesome." Before and during the game he also got to go down into the clubhouse and meet some of the players, including David Ortiz, which was something that meant a great deal to him. He stressed how the players acted just like any other baseball player, not ones in the major leagues. "Watched the game from the clubhouse with Papi -- that was pretty cool," Rei said. "[Mike] Napoli, Joe Kelly, Daniel Nava. It was cool to meet those guys. They are unbelievably good at what they do, but they are normal guys. They are completely normal guys. We see them on TV and they are God's to us in a way and they are a couple stages ahead of us and obviously playing in the best league and the best game in the world. They are incredibly good at what they do and I absolutely look up to them in that regard." While just a few short months ago it seemed things couldn't get any worse, now it's almost like they can't get any better -- being at Fenway Park as an official member of the Red Sox. "It was absolutely amazing," Rei said of being at Fenway. "Knowing who has played there. Who has hit balls over the Monster. All the guys that have come through the organization since it started, it's surreal to think about it and it's pretty darn cool to be a Red Sox." TOUGH LUCK TEDDY For all the tough luck that High-A Salem stater Teddy Stankiewicz has had to deal with this season, it couldn't have happened to a player with a better attitude. The 2013 second-round pick has a 2-8 record, but has pitched much better than the record would indicate as his Salem team hasn't given him much run support. In nine of his 14 starts he's allowed two earned runs or less, but is just 2-6 in those games. "That's just part of the game," Stankiewicz said. "You can throw well some games and give up some runs and some games you're just not going to get run support, which is completely normal. You can't get runs every single time. It's not really a problem, just how the game is." For the year, the right-hander has a 4.00 ERA as he's a contact pitcher not known for racking up the strikeouts totaling just 39 over 83 1/3 innings. Even though the wins aren't there, he's pleased with how things have gone. "I feel like I am doing well," he said. "Just putting a few more little things together. Mechanically, I'm not pulling out and making sure I am facing the plate. Everything else is coming along good. I feel like I am throwing well, just sometimes it just doesn't happen, which is baseball. It's going to be a good rest of the season." The biggest adjustment Stankiewicz said he had to make since turning pro was his mental game. Without being mentally tough, it's tough to be a successful professional pitcher. "For anybody being mental is going to get your over the top faster than other people," he said. "Being in professional baseball you have to be as mentally tough as anyone. You're going to have outings where you feel great and get ripped -- it's just how it is. Then days where you don't feel good you're like, 'What's going on?' It just happens. You have to be mentally tough, stay in the game and be ready at all times." Stankiewicz is now in his second full season in the Red Sox organization, moving up a level each year. He said it's something he doesn't think about because once he does there's a good chance he won't be at his best. "I am hoping to get [to the majors] one day, but if you're thinking about that it's going to get you off track," he said. "You have to think about what you're doing right now and if you get moved up, you get moved up fantastic, but you can't think of 'What if I get moved up?' You can't think like that. You have to focus on what you're doing and not let your mind wonder off." For more Red Sox minor league coverage, listen to this week's Red Sox Farm Report Podcast featuring special guest Red Sox minor league hitting coordinator Tim Hyers.