Watching Rene Rivera
We’ll have more on Steven Souza and Burch Smith later. For now, here are notes on the other players the Rays received.
Rene Rivera, who turns 32 on the day of the trade deadline and is under team control through the 2017 season, will provide most of his value on defense through his receiving and staff-handling. Additionally, Rivera should earn points with his arm and nimbleness.
Ultimately, controlling the running game falls on the pitcher, so statistics like caught stealing percentage are poor tools for measuring a catcher’s performance. Nonetheless, a random sample of stolen-base attempts against Rivera (including a few successes), reveals that he consistently posts above-average pop times. The arm is strong, though it’s worth noting his accuracy wavered; whether that’s a big-picture problem or simply a small-sample illusion is unclear.
There was one caught stealing where Rivera had to pick a low breaking ball before nabbing the baserunner. It served as a gentle reminder—along with his wide stances behind the dish—that he is more athletic than Jose Molina was during his Rays tenure. As a result, expect Rivera to be an asset—or, at least, not a liability—when it comes to smothering spiked or bounced pitches.
Rivera’s offensive value is less certain. Mechanically, he features a big leg kick he uses to coil his lower half. At the same time, he loads his hands up to the point where his elbow is well above his back shoulder, thereby lengthening his swing and limiting his ability to make consistent, quality contact. Further complicating matters is an aggressive approach, complete with more hacking and zone-expanding than Ryan Hanigan displayed. To continue the comparison with former Rays backstops, Rivera’s walk and strikeout rates are likely to resemble Molina’s from last season. As for his speed, well, he’s a catcher.
If there is a bright spot to Rivera’s offensive game, it stems from his power. He homered 11 times in 329 plate appearances last season, which caught everyone off guard, considering he’d homered just four times in his first 344 trips to the plate in the majors. Much of that production came against lefties, and on pitches over the middle or on the inner half. There is some pull-side pop here, though expecting him to keep up with last season’s pace is asking a lot; rather, the hope should be that he damages enough mistake pitches to atone for his other shortcomings.
Overall, Rivera profiles as a catch-and-throw type with some power, which is usually a fancy way of saying a backup. The Rays don’t have a real alternative to him at the moment, however, so he’ll probably enter the season as the primary starter.
ESPN.com’s Keith Law provided reports on Jake Bauers and Travis Ott in an Insider-only piece—long story short: a disciplined first baseman with substandard power and a projectable southpaw with no. 5 starter potential. Both are early in the developmental process.