Rea Weighs Options After Selection

Jeffrey Rea didn't really want to provide for public consumption the specific numbers on his final scorecard. But he did refer to his Tuesday afternoon spent on the golf course as "Terrible. One of the worst rounds I've ever had. But, I had a lot on my mind."

Indeed. The Mississippi State second baseman had good reason for distraction. While trying to strike a stationary white ball, Rea was thinking about where he will be swinging at a bigger, moving one in the months and years to come. He was also hoping to be contacted by a major league franchise that had decided to take him in the June draft.

That call didn't come Tuesday, but around 2:00 Wednesday Rea got better news as Boston selected him in the 33rd round. But this only adds to the decisions he must make, because now Rea intends to spend the summer making his case with the Red Sox that he should be signed to a contract.

"They're telling me I need to go play summer in the Cape (Cod League)," Rea said. "They want to see me play some more with a wood bat. If it works out OK, I can sign at the end of summer."

So in-effect he gets to spend the summer in an extended 'tryout' for Boston, which is a better deal than some get. Instead of a rushed span of wheeling-and-dealing, with the club pressuring him to sign and take a fast summer assignment, Rea gets to play ball and then either make a deal or return to college.

"So it's a win-win for me," he said.

Rea is coming off a career-best season at State, having hith .372 as a junior and starting all 60 games at second base. He was the Bulldog underclassman most likely to be tabbed, but it didn't come as early as hoped.

"I knew there was a possibility if I didn't go on the first day, the top-ten rounds, that I would have to play summer ball," said Rea, who had made other plans anyway. "I was going to take the summer off, maybe take a couple of classes." So he is now revising that off-season schedule drastically. Rea said he would head home to Nettleton this evening to start getting stuff together before heading to Massachusetts…once a team is lined up, that is.

"I haven't even called the coach at the Cape yet," he said. "A scout told me he'd help get me on a team somewhere." Possibly the same club that teammate, pitcher, and fellow junior Josh Johnson is planning to play for. Regardless he's satisfied with this change of plans.

"I can go up there and play well and maybe get more than I thought. Or, I might go back to school."

Coach Ron Polk would naturally prefer the latter option, especially given the numbers of starters leaving the lineup and redshirts and rookies being counted on to step into primary roles next season. Having a proven middle-infielder would make rebuilding a lineup that much simpler. Though, Polk has talked lately of moving Rea from second, where he's started 166 games, out to centerfield. This sort of talk isn't being dangled as an incentive to return, though.

"I don't know what position I'd play, it might be good if I played centerfield and worked on that position to come back next year. But it's just rumors, just talk. That doesn't matter to me."

Rea, undrafted out of high school, has been watched by several clubs the last couple of years. He said he's heard most often from Boston, of course, as well as Detroit, the New York Yankees, and Colorado among others. All have the same question: can he swing wood well enough to play pro baseball? He played in a wood-bat league after his freshman college season with mixed results. "I didn't hit well with it, but I led my team in homers with three! But I like wood."

Also, scouts want proof that Rea's wrist and hamstring problems of the first two years are, well, in the past. He took the summer of 2005 off entirely after wrist surgery which worked out very well. "It didn't bother me at all, and I got my confidence back." And his average jumped from .305 to .371 with a strong post-season performance at the Clemson Regional. So the health ought not be an issue.

It's just a matter of proving he's worth an investment, and the club now holding his draft rights for one full year putting up the right numbers to make it worth skipping a senior season. Whatever happens, Rea is more relaxed than he was on the golf course yesterday. "This should be an easy decision. The money should be there or not. And I can come back and maybe try to break a few records, the career hits record should be in range." Rea has 246 safeties in three seasons, just outside the top-ten but only 82 behind Richard Lee's record of 328.

And besides, if he returned, Rea might get that long-lusted-for green light from his coach to steal a few more bases. For now, Polk can only wait through the rest of this day and now the whole summer to see if some pro club swipes his veteran leadoff batter.

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