Rays newcomer spotlight: Catcher Rene Rivera

Rene Rivera could be the answer to the Tampa Bay Rays' big need for a reliable catcher for the upcoming season.

Soon, winter will give way to spring.

Soon, the Tampa Bay Rays will begin again as something new.

Their offseason has been full of change. There have been the departures of executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon. There has been Matt Silverman’s move from team president to president of baseball operations. There has been Kevin Cash’s hire as manager. There have been transactions that sent away familiar faces and introduced intriguing names.

With 2015 here, that means spring training is drawing near. In the coming weeks, we’ll take looks at some of the new Rays players who will become part of the franchise’s different era, as well as their potential to become production when the team reports to Port Charlotte, Fla., to begin a fresh campaign.

This week, we analyze catcher Rene Rivera, 31, who was part of a historic trade that sent Wil Myers and Ryan Hanigan, among others, to the San Diego Padres. (Hanigan was later moved to the Boston Red Sox.)

Here’s a closer look at how Rivera might fit within the Rays’ vision for the coming season …

RENE RIVERA, CATCHER

Career stops: Seattle Mariners (2004-2006, selected in the second round of the 2001 draft); Minnesota Twins (2011); San Diego Padres (2013-2014)

Batting stats: .228 average, 15 home runs, 66 RBI, .279 OBP, .637 OPS

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How he was gained: Acquired from the Padres as part of a three-team, 11-player trade on Dec. 19 that also involved the Washington Nationals.

What he offers: The potential for well-rounded play. Especially with Hanigan’s injuries last season, the Rays suffered from a lack of offensive production from their catchers in 2014. Rivera offers the potential for decent numbers as a hitter, after he set career marks in hits (74), doubles (18), home runs (11), RBI (44), batting average (.252), on-base percentage (.319) and slugging percentage (.432) in 103 games last season. He also threw out 33 potential base stealers, the most among catchers in the majors.

The more of a solid dual-threat name he becomes, the more the Rays will benefit.

Why he’s needed: What team isn’t enhanced by a strong catcher? The Rays have had trouble developing catchers within their developmental system throughout recent years, so trades have been their way to try to find solutions at the position. The duo of Hanigan and Jose Molina underwhelmed last season, so Tampa Bay hopes it’s stronger at catcher with Rivera and John Jaso, who was acquired in the trade that sent Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Oakland Athletics.

Rivera’s ability to throw out potential base stealers is especially promising. Molina only caught 14 potential base stealers last season as opposed to allowing 38 stolen bases. Hanigan, meanwhile, threw out just eight potential base stealers but allowed 30 stolen bases. 

Biggest question: Does he have the stamina to remain a staple of the lineup? Despite appearing in parts of six seasons in the majors, Rivera hadn’t played in more than 45 games in a single campaign until he appeared in 103 contests last year. The Rays are betting on Rivera’s ability to build on the progress he enjoyed with San Diego in 2014, and there is reason to place faith in him.

If he’s effective, he’ll be a strong upgrade offensively and defensively to what Tampa Bay saw from Hanigan and Molina last season. It was a wise choice to move beyond Molina, in particular, after a year in which the veteran hit a miserable .178 with 10 RBI, a .230 on-base percentage and a .417 OPS. The Rays hope there’s a higher ceiling to be discovered with Rivera.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.