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Last player drafted at the top in school

Last player drafted at the top in school

In the tradition of saving the best for last, 2010's winner of MLB.com's "Mr. Don't Count Him Out" award, Matt Rice, could very well someday be the best mechanical engineer of the 1,525 players selected in the recently completed First-Year Player Draft.

Then again, he's not exactly ready to give up on this baseball thing yet.

Draft Central

Rice was the last player taken in the Draft, the final name called in the 50-round affair, and the junior catcher from Western Kentucky, who was taken by the defending World Series champion Yankees, brings some impressive numbers to the table.

Scouts like the .369 batting average, 10 home runs and 65 RBIs he put up this season. Job recruiters outside the hardball realm are sure to dig the 4.0 GPA. Either way, Mr. Don't Count Him Out looks like a can't-miss kid.

"I'm a big academics guy," Rice said. "I posed some signability problems, and I guess that's why I fell quite a bit. I got a 4.0 in mechanical engineering and I guess the word got out. You'd hope that wouldn't hurt you."

As Rice explained, teams probably figured a student of his caliber would prefer to get his degree first before testing the waters of pro ball.

"I was considering it [going to play and finishing my degree later]," Rice said. "The reason I may have fallen to so late [is] my academics. I was only going to go play if I got drafted so high. It was definitely something considered before the Draft. I was telling guys [I would go in the] top seven or eight rounds. I guess it didn't work out."

No problem for Rice, who said that even though chances are against him signing this year, he was honored simply to be drafted and particularly stoked that a storied franchise such as the Yankees saw enough in him to consider him.

And if everything works out with his health and continued progress on the field leads to another -- and potentially higher -- spot in the 2011 Draft, there's a very good chance he'll sign next year.

"Yeah, absolutely," Rice said. "I definitely have an interest in playing professionally. Hopefully next year, something would work out."

If it doesn't, Rice can fall back on a superior education in the making. And don't think for a second that he doesn't realize how that education helps him in all facets of life, including baseball.

"I think intelligence helps you in baseball," Rice said. "Especially with catching, where you need to be a student of the game. Calling your own game requires some intelligence.

"I think all catchers you see in the big leagues are above-average, intelligence-wise."

Doug Miller and Jonathan Mayo are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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