With big money contracts and lucrative opportunities offered to student athletes in professional sports, the idea of a player completing all four years of eligibility prior to being drafted is a rarity in today’s world. Though most players eventually return to school to complete their degrees, fewer opt to remain in school, wary of risking possible injury. In a differing set of circumstances, catcher Dan Rizzie, a 13th round draft pick of the New York Mets, spent all four seasons at Xavier after a hand injury as a junior nearly left him undrafted.
During their first season in the Big East in 2014, Xavier participated in the Big East Tournament and claimed their first title in the conference. For Rizzie, the experience of winning a championship as a sophomore has a sense of irony since it came at MCU Park in Coney Island, where he makes his professional debut with the Brooklyn Cyclones. “There is no better place to start your professional career. We played here in Brooklyn during the conference tournament as the fourth seed and ended up winning it all,” Rizzie said.
The momentum of a storied playoff run was short-lived for Rizzie the following season, when he suffered a hand injury after being hit by a pitch in March of his junior year, curtailing his season after just 14 games. Rizzie’s setback all but ensured that his name would not be among those called at the Major League draft and he would return for a senior season and a chance to further develop his skills behind the plate and put himself in a more opportune position for success. “This year (2016 season) I was able to refine some more of my skills and the extra development did not hurt at all,” Rizzie explains.
Rizzie returned from the injury with his strongest collegiate season, batting .317/.383/.472, with a career-best nine home runs and an .855 OPS. Rizzie earned All-Big East first team honors and consideration for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the top catcher in college baseball for the third time in his career. Though Rizzie impressed from an individual standpoint during the regular season, his greatest contributions came in postseason play, where he hit to a .483 average with eight runs batted in. In addition to his offensive prowess, Rizzie threw out 58 percent of potential base stealers in his senior year and was one of the top defensive catchers in the conference.
Initially considered by an unnamed team as a potential 10th round pick in the 2016 Draft, Rizzie passed on the offer after the signing bonus was well below recommended slot value. Gambling that his credentials as an all-around catcher would suffice, Rizzie waited three more rounds for the call he hoped for but never came a year prior, as the Mets took him with their 13th round selection with a more appropriate signing bonus for the draft slot. “I tried to negotiate an offer in the 10th round but it just didn’t work out. I figured I’d roll the dice and that somebody would take me in the third day of the draft. It ended up working out and I am glad to be a part of this great program (in Brooklyn),” said Rizzie.
According to Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa, Rizzie will share the backup catching duties with incumbent Brandon Brosher, as each will understudy the promising, 19-year-old backstop Ali Sanchez. “Over the next few days I will talk about what each player’s role is going to be coming out of the gate. With the three catchers, suffice to say will be the number one catcher and Brosher and Rizzie will both equally split time behind them,” Gamboa said.