NYPL notes: Rice earning respect

Renegades catcher continues success he enjoyed in college

Matt Rice was taken by the Rays in the ninth round of the 2011 Draft. (Jim Robinson/WKUSports.com)

By Brian Moynahan / Special to MLB.com | July 15, 2011 6:00 AM

A year ago, Hudson Valley's Matt Rice almost fell out of the Draft entirely.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound catcher out of Western Kentucky was MLB.com's "Mr. Don't Count Him Out," selected by the New York Yankees in the 50th round with the 1,525th and final pick.

In addition to being a star on the baseball field -- he hit .369 with 10 home runs and 72 RBIs as a junior -- he was a top performer in the classroom with a 4.0 grade point average as a Mechanical Engineering major. He fell so far in the Draft, he says, as teams figured a student of his caliber would prefer to finish school and get his degree.

"I put a lot of work in to that point," Rice said, looking back on his 2010 Draft experience. "Having my major and putting in the amount of work, it was going to take a significant amount to get me to forgo that senior year. But I think it worked out for the best."

Rice produced nearly identical numbers as a senior for the Hilltoppers, finishing the season as the team leader in average (.360), home runs (nine), RBIs (59), slugging percentage (.551), walks (35) and on-base percentage (.444).

That consistent production paid off last month when he was chosen by Tampa Bay in the ninth round, a greater leap in Draft position than any of the previous Mr. Don't Count Him Out winners.

In 16 games with Hudson Valley, Rice is hitting .339 with two home runs, 11 RBIs, 11 runs scored and four stolen bases. His nine-game hitting streak ended Wednesday.

"I just wanted to come in here and gain the respect of my teammates and the coaches and just be a guy that goes out there and plays hard and plays the right way," said Rice. "I've got a bunch to learn. I'm trying to learn as much as I can from the coaches here and just work hard every day."

Rice is joined on the Renegades by outfielder Kes Carter, his Western Kentucky teammate and fellow Tennessean who was drafted in the first round by the Rays this year.

"When you look at the guy, you're like, 'This guy doesn't look like a baseball player,' but he puts up ridiculous numbers," said Carter. "Especially in college and then now, coming over to professional baseball, he's putting up great numbers, too. I'm really just happy that he's got a second opportunity to play the game he loves and help the team get some wins.

"He's been showing that he can play at the next level, and I'm excited to be a part of his career to this point and into the future, hopefully."

Rice echoes his teammate's sentiment; he's happy to have a chance to prove himself professionally.

"Absolutely, it's extremely cool," he said. "I'm excited about having an opportunity here with the Tampa Bay organization, and I'm working to get better."

In brief

Tune-up for a call-up: Jeanmar Gomez, who pitched in four games for the Cleveland Indians earlier this season, started for Mahoning Valley against Connecticut on Wednesday. He struck out three and allowed one run on five hits in four innings. MLB.com reported Wednesday that Gomez will replace Mitch Talbot in the Cleveland rotation and pitch Sunday at Baltimore.

Some guys get no luck: The only complete game in the league so far this season was pitched by Connecticut's Brennan Smith against Staten Island on July 6. Smith allowed two runs on seven hits in eight innings, but was outdueled by Evan DeLuca, who pitched six innings of three-hit baseball in a 2-1 Staten Island win. It was the second straight year Smith pitched a complete game against the Yankees and lost -- he fell, 1-0, on July 28, 2010.

Some teams have all the luck: The Staten Island Yankees have the league's best record at 20-4. They are 11-0 in one-run games, 4-0 when tied after eight innings and 3-4 when trailing after eight innings. No other team in the league has more than one win when trailing after eight.

Brian Moynahan is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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