Sunday, September 11, 2011

Who is Rene Rivera?

Rivera tags out Chicago's Tyler Flowers at home plate

Rene Rivera, born on July 31, shares a birthday with Harry Potter, but that's the only magical thing about him.  After making his first Major League appearance in 2004 with Seattle, Rivera has played the role of a prototypical journeyman catcher perfectly.  He's spent time with five different organizations, occasionally getting opportunities to fill in at the big league level.

Drafted by the Seattle Mariners as a 17-year old out of Puerto Rico in 2001, Rivera at that point was an exciting prospect.  A second round selection, he split time between rookie league and low Single-A that season.  It was a tale of two halves, as Rivera's performance in rookie-ball was very encouraging, while in Single-A he had four hits in 45 at bats, one walk against 19 strikeouts, and a .351 OPS.  The next two seasons, at low and high Single-A respectively, were solid, but much of the luster was gone from Rivera's days as a projectable 17-year old.

In 2004, Rivera spent most of the season at Single-A again, although he appeared in four games at the Triple-A level and, despite his inexperience, he received a Major League call-up.  On September 22, he made his big league debut, but he did only came to the plate 3 times that season and unsurprisingly did not manage to reach base.  Another mediocre season, this time split between Double-A and Triple-A, nonetheless saw Rivera in Seattle for two short stints, where he actually had a very good hitting line.

Perhaps because of that, Rivera earned the backup catcher gig for the Mariners in 2006 when, save for one game in Triple-A, he spent the entire season at the big league level.  It was a miserable affair, however, as he came crashing back to earth following his unsustainable performance with Seattle the previous year.  A season with a 29-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a .152 batting average, and a .431 OPS, even as young 22-year old, essentially ended any prospect of Rivera becoming a starting-caliber catcher.

It would also be four full seasons before Rivera would be back in a big league uniform.  After toiling away in Double-A and Triple-A for three more organizations--the Dodgers, Mets, and Yankees--, and not really warranting a call-up with his performance, Rivera signed a minor league contract with Minnesota prior to the 2011 season.  Although he displayed the same lack of plate discipline that has hampered him during his entire professional career, Joe Mauer's trip to the disabled list at the beginning of May necessitated Rivera's presence in Minneapolis.

It was more of the same in the Majors, as Rivera's average rested under the Mendoza Line and he added little power or on-base ability on top of it.  When Joe Mauer returned, Rivera was predictably sent back to Rochester, although he returned to the big league club in at the end of August.  At this point, his average is down to .152 and his OPS is a putrid .419.  No matter what the Twins organization says about his game-calling ability or defense, it's clear to anyone who watches him that Rivera is eminently replaceable and probably shouldn't have even a backup job in the Major Leagues.

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