Dealt with numerous physical setbacks during his college career, Dalton Rice is proving that adversity can open the door to opportunity.

Dalton Rice winds up a pitch during Oxford Hills’ 2013 game against Hampden Academy in Paris. Sun Journal file photo

The former Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and University of Southern Maine star from Waterford will board a plane for Utah on Monday and, after the routine physical, will sign a contract with the Anaheim Angels as an undrafted free agent.

A 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-hander, Rice received the official invitation from the Angels on Friday.

“It’s a blessing,” Rice said. “I just feel really blessed and honored because there are a lot of really good players out there and I played with a lot of good players. To be given this opportunity to keep playing, it’s unbelievable. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little kid.”

Rice is headed for Orem, Utah, which is the home of the Orem Owlz, the Angels’ short-season Rookie League affiliate in the Pioneer League. He has not been assigned to the Owlz and the Angels have not said what their plans are for him but that will likely be his destination after he signs.

“I don’t really know much of the details about where I’m playing or when it all starts until after I get out there,” Rice said. “I have a physical that I have to take and then after my physical I’ll sign the contract and then I’ll have a better idea of where I’m going.”

The Angels were the most interested among several teams that have scouted and talked to Rice while he was at USM.

“I’ve talked to teams here and there the last couple of years,” Rice said. “I didn’t have a great season personally. We had a great one team-wise, but I didn’t really have high expectations going into the draft.”

In late May, Rice flew to Philadelphia and worked out with a number of other prospects in front of several Angels scouts.

“It went really well,” he said. “Physically, I performed well. I think that, along with what they’ve seen me throw, I think that went a long way in getting me signed.”

A regional scout stayed in contact with Rice leading up to the three-day Major League Baseball Draft. Last Wednesday, the final day, the Angels expressed interest in signing him if he didn’t get selected 40-round draft. When he wasn’t selected, the Angels called again on Thursday and reiterated their interest, then formally invited him to Utah on Friday afternoon.

“Although it didn’t work out on the draft boards, they still gave me an opportunity to sign as a free agent,” he said.

In four years at USM, appeared in 44 games, starting in 39. He compiled a 13-9 record with a 4.42 ERA, walking 109 and striking out 244 in 195.2 innings, an average of 11.22 strikeouts per nine innings.

A 2015 Oxford Hills graduate and three-sport athlete (baseball, basketball, golf), Rice tore his ulnar collateral ligament during his senior year and had to sit out his freshman year at USM after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Rice redshirted and then got a lot of work in his first season under coach Ed Flaherty, starting a team-high 10 games and posting a 3-1 record.

Rice’s sophomore season was his best. He made 15 appearances (team-leading 11 starts) and went 6-1 with a 3.78 ERA while leading the Huskies in innings pitched (69) and strikeouts (80). That summer, he was named to the Little East Conference first team and made two starts for the Sanford Mainers of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

He started his junior season as USM’s No. 1 pitcher, but in the first inning of his first start, Rice’s pitching elbow became inflamed and he was shelved for nearly a month. He returned in early April and still led the Huskies with 63 strikeouts (11.65 K/9) while making 10 appearances (nine starts) and going 3-4 with a 4.62 ERA.

He performed well on the Huskies’ traditional March trip down south to begin his senior year but started experiencing arm problems again when the team returned north to the cold weather. After sitting out nearly a month, he returned in early May and struggled. For the season, he was 1-3 in nine appearances, all starts, with a 5.35 ERA. He struck out 49 in 37 innings, a career-high 11.92 K/9 ratio. USM finished 37-9 and reached the NCAA Division III Regional finals.

“It was one of those years for me where I just couldn’t put a good start together,” Rice said. “Whatever inning it may be, but I never really had a clean start. The first part of the season I was throwing very well, and then once we came back from our southern trip, I just seemed to find myself in a lot of trouble always, whether it be a blow-up inning or whatever. I just didn’t pitch well.”

“If everything came easily, I guess things wouldn’t be as sweet,” Rice said. “Dealing with a little adversity is good for people.”

Rice, who graduated with his bachelor’s degree in business administration this spring, called his career at USM “bittersweet” because of the physical frustrations, but added there was no better place to go navigate the highs and lows he experienced.

“There have definitely been times when, I haven’t necessarily doubted myself talent-wise, but unfortunately I’ve had some arm issues. I’ve had to deal with a lot of adversity over the last four years,” he said.

“But I tell you what, I’ve had best coaching staff that you can have out there. I’ve had the best teammates over the last four years,” he said. “That’s what really keeps pushing you. That’s what makes you want to get back out there and compete with those guys.”

Rice believes his struggles have made him mentally stronger, which has helped make him a better pitcher. He believes it will also help prepare him for life in the minors.

“I think there’s so much room for growth as long as you’re willing to go through it and ride it out,” he said. “It can make you so much better. I know I’ve learned way more from failure than I ever have from success.”

“I know what I can do when I’m healthy, and I think that’s what the Angels saw,” he said.

The Angels saw Rice’s impressive pitching repertoire, which features two- and four-seam fastballs, curve and change. His fastball topped out at 95 this spring, and he feels as good physically as he has in a while.

“It makes it nice that I kind of get a new slate,” he said.

Rice said he thinks he has something to prove in Utah, especially as an undrafted Division III pitcher playing with and against highly touted prospects from major NCAA Division I programs.

“I have a ton to be grateful for and thankful for, but I’m kind of going in with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I just want to go in and show that I deserve to be there and that I can compete at that level and move up through a good organization.”

“The goal is just to go there and play baseball, do what I’ve done my whole life and try to be the best pitcher I can be and compete at a high level,” Rice said.


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