SAN DIEGO -- One of the very few highlights from the Padres' 2015 season was the meteoric rise of rookie right-handed pitcher Colin Rea.
Rea, who entered the season having never thrown a single pitch higher than Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore, had a notable season by any measure.
"I feel it's still kind of surreal for me right now. Every time we have a family event, it always comes up: I can't believe it actually happened. This year, I won't forget it," Rea said last month.
Rea began the season with Double-A San Antonio, got the final out -- a strikeout -- of the Futures Game in Cincinnati and was promoted to Triple-A El Paso, the last step before making his big league debut Aug. 11.
Yes, this was a lot to digest for Rea, who hails from tiny Cascade, Iowa, and is currently ranked as the Padres' No. 4 prospect by MLBPipeline.com.
"It was huge," Rea said of last season. "I think the biggest thing was taking strides mentally, kind of having my confidence grow and believing I can pitch in the big leagues and now believing I belong up there."
Rea, 25, will be in big league camp next month when Spring Training begins with every intention of winning a spot in the starting rotation. It won't be easy, but he knows he put himself on the map with his showing late last season.
Rea went 2-2 with a 4.26 ERA in six starts before he was shut down in September with soreness in his right elbow and forearm area. Rea threw 133 1/3 innings last season between all his stops and the team figured it was a good time to shut him down.
"It was more of a precautionary thing. I felt like I could have kept throwing. They knew that. But we agreed it was a better idea to shut it down and come into the next year ready to go," Rea said recently.
Rea started his offseason throwing program in December on time and said that "everything feels good."
Rea's last start before the soreness was one of his best -- and, certainly, strangest.
On Sept. 8 against the Rockies, Rea allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings in a 2-1 victory. He was behind in the count on several occasions and issued all three of his walks in the first three innings.
But he competed, bore down when he needed to and, essentially, grew up a lot that day.
"I didn't really have good command that day, I didn't have good stuff. But I made pitches when I had to, relied on my two-seam fastball that game. When I needed to, was able to put it where I wanted to. I'm sure there was a little luck involved, for sure," he said.
While that Rockies game might have, statistically at least, been his best start, his real best start occurred Aug. 11, his big league debut at Petco Park, as 70 or so friends and family from Iowa converged on San Diego to watch him.
Rea allowed three runs over five innings -- getting his first victory in his first start and even recording his first big league hit in the game.
"It was pretty overwhelming, I'm not going to lie," Rea said. "Those guys that came out and those at home who watched at home, they supported me and my whole career.
"It means so much to have that kind of support. I think they played a big role in helping me get there."