clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Reynaldo Rivera works to make adjustments in West Michigan

New, comments

The young slugger’s ability to adapt will determine his future.

Jay Markle/Bless You Boys

“He’s superman strong.”

These were the words of decorated major league veteran and current West Michigan Whitecaps manager Lance Parrish. He was describing Rey Rivera, the Tigers’ second round draft pick in 2017. That’s no small praise coming from a player who hit 324 home runs and won three Silver Slugger awards over a long career as a catcher. It’s no secret that Rivera’s immense power is what got him drafted. However, things could easily turn south for the young slugger.

“Pitchers are pretty adept at finding your weaknesses and wearing those out,” Parrish continued, “especially the higher you go.”

These words hold true for any position player who enters the professional ranks. Every one has a weakness, and pitchers live to discover and exploit them. The key to success, then, is for a batter to find his own weaknesses first and fix them before they can ruin his career. That is a far easier task with the help of professional instruction. Rivera recalled some of the advice he had been given after a batting practice session on Saturday afternoon.

“[Parrish] was talking about me staying on my legs more, staying back more, because I tend to go forward and drift forward sometimes,” said the well-built designated hitter. “He was trying to make sure that I remember that and I work on that so I [have better at-bats].”

This tweak, though it may be simple, could radically change how well Rivera is able to perform. His power gives reason for evaluators to forgive his poor baserunning and thoroughly unimpressive defense. The power that affords him a chance at a professional career will mean nothing if he can’t get to it, and Rivera has struggled mightily to stay back and drive breaking balls in recent weeks. The change he is trying to integrate into his approach could solve that.

Making adjustments, though, is a far more difficult task than it may sound. A player may have done things a certain way his entire life. Bad habits can simply become second nature and difficult to re-program. Players need to bulwark every weakness, and to maximize every advantage they can in an sport where most players wash out long before they sniff the major leagues.

“You practice that, you keep it from practice in the game. You just have to go there and execute and just do the best you can with your ability,” Rivera commented. “You practice as much as you can on that stuff and eventually it’s gonna stay. What Parrish is saying is... true and something I have to work on. Being honest, that’s the way [I should play]. I’m glad he’s getting on me for that.”

Jay Markle/Bless You Boys

One could be fooled by Rivera’s numbers with the Whitecaps this season. They’re a perfect example of why scouting a prospect’s stat lines is a poor substitute for a trained eye. Rivera has a fine 123 wRC+ so far, with four home runs, 18 doubles and three triples in 201 plate appearances. Those numbers are strongly supported by a 10 percent walk rate and a strikeout rate of 23.4 percent. It’s been a very encouraging start after Rivera’s struggles in 2017.

However, Single-A ball hitters don’t see as many good offspeed pitches, nor the type of command of those offerings, that they’ll see as they move up through the various organizational levels. As Parrish has emphasized, learning to stay back will help him to get the barrel on more of those pitches.

While his easygoing nature and calm voice may make one imagine that Rivera takes a relaxed approach to his game, he, like every player, knows just how important it is to keep improving upon their skills.

“It’s not an easy fix, it never is,” said Parrish about the issues with Rivera’s swing. “He’s a front-foot hitter... and I challenged him to change that. I honestly don’t think that he’ll progress any further than here or maybe Lakeland if he doesn’t make an adjustment to his mechanics.”

Rivera is undoubtedly aware of Parrish’s opinion. Despite being a much maligned selection at the time he was drafted, he’s a valuable prospect in the organization and the Tigers will do everything they can to make a major league hitter out of him. In fact, the Whitecaps are utilizing him primarily as a DH so that he can dedicate most of his energies to being a successful hitter first. Fielding is secondary in his profile, but good bat can always be found a home on a major league roster.

That is a lot of pressure on anyone — especially a 21-year-old in the low minors.

Despite the thrill of being drafted well ahead of where the experts predicted, Rivera admitted it put a strain on his game. He slashed a sorry .187/.261/.280 with Connecticut in 2017, tallying a mere 65 wRC+. The blame for that, he said, was a poor mental state.

“I’ve been trying to... not be so anxious,” said Rivera. “Last year, I caught myself being too anxious and I was trying to do too much and I was putting too much pressure on myself... [Detroit] drafted me because they know I have a talent. It’s all a matter of enjoying the game.”

No one can prepare players for the pressure and emotional tax playing a child’s game can have. All issues have the potential of a double-edged sword. If Rivera can improve his mechanics, and start driving offspeed pitches again, it will improve his confidence. But of course, you have to already have confidence and trust in what you’re working on to make major mechanical adjustments in game situations. The whole package has to work in tandem. A more effective swing that allows him to tap into his power, would constitute a major win for the Tigers. While Rivera isn’t a key cog in the rebuild, it would be nice to see him pan out. Even a bench bat with thump would be a fantastic outcome.

After all, chicks dig the longball.

For more quotes and analysis, read Chris Brown’s article on TigsTown. Be sure to also follow him on twitter @ChrisBrown0914!