Drafting and developing prospects often seems like little more than a crapshoot. There is certainly some luck involved, but some teams have proven to be better than others at finding hidden talent. “The art of scouting,” as our good friend Jim Price might say, has been alive and well for over a century. Now, teams are starting to add science into the mix. By gathering as much hard data as possible on a prospect, teams are able to better determine how likely it is a player will succeed at the major league level.
At least, we think. One can never be entirely sure how a prospect will pan out, but it certainly seems like a good idea to start with the biggest, strongest, and fastest players possible.
In the Detroit Tigers’ case, that brings us to Reynaldo Rivera. Fans were left scratching their heads when the Tigers nabbed him with their second round pick in the 2017 MLB draft, but now we might know why they were so enthralled. According to FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, Detroit had Trackman data for Rivera that other teams did not prior to the draft. Apparently, they liked what they saw.
You might be wondering, how did the Tigers get that data? Rivera spent the 2016-17 season at Chipola College, where he hit .438/.534/.865 (yeah, seriously) in 59 games. Six of those games took place at Joker Marchant Stadium, where the Tigers installed a Trackman system shortly after Al Avila took over as general manager. Between that and their previous relationship with Rivera (through scouting director Scott Pleis), making him a Tiger was a foregone conclusion.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go so well after that. Rivera hit just .187/.261/.280 in 207 plate appearances with the short-season Connecticut Tigers, a .541 OPS. Optimists will point at the modest 8.7 percent walk rate, while detractors think the high strikeout rate and lack of in-game power (.093 ISO) are indicative of future performance.
Expect Rivera to be compared to former Tigers prospect Steven Moya at every turn. Like Moya, Rivera is a large human being, standing 6’6. Also like Moya, Rivera moves well for his size. He mostly played first base while at Chipola, but the Tigers had him split time in the outfield during his brief spell in Connecticut last summer. This might not work out long term — TigsTown’s Mark Anderson is skeptical — but that he can even fake it right now speaks well to his athleticism. If he finds a way to stick, he has an above-average arm that will play in right field.
Also like Moya, Rivera has plenty of raw power. He can clear the fences to all fields with ease, and would be a threat to regularly hit 30 homers (or more) in the majors if his hit tool comes around. That power hasn’t manifested in-game yet, but he hit doubles and homers in bunches at Chipola. It’s easily his carrying tool, and one that still makes him a solid prospect even if he ends up at first base.
Rivera might be able to succeed where Moya failed due to a more advance approach at the plate. He walked in nearly nine percent of his professional plate appearances last year, and walked (40) nearly as often as he struck out (43) in college last spring. He still struggles with pitch recognition at times, but has still found a way to get on base regularly.
All the power in the world can’t save Rivera’s stock if he doesn’t make enough contact. His large build and long limbs lend themselves to a long swing, one that will be exposed by premium velocity right now. His pitch recognition skills are also somewhat lacking, leaving him vulnerable to good off-speed stuff and pitches on the inner half of the plate. Neither MLB Pipeline nor TigsTown think the hit tool will ever be a league average tool, but it doesn’t have to so long as he hits for power.
While Rivera is a good athlete for his size, he is still a below average runner. This limits his potential as both a baserunner and an outfielder, especially in Comerica Park’s spacious dimensions. It likely won’t hurt his value too much if he moves to first, especially if he shows the hands and footwork to be an average defender there. However, it does tie his entire profile to the bat; if he doesn’t hit, he won’t ever stick in the majors.
Projected team: Short-season Connecticut Tigers
Rivera got plenty of playing time for Connecticut last year, but struggled to find his footing at the plate. With the Tigers also trying to transition him to a corner outfield spot, expect him to spend most of the spring in Lakeland before heading back to Connecticut for the summer. A strong performance there could see him moved to West Michigan for the stretch run, but he’s still young enough that the Tigers don’t need to rush him if he’s not ready.