Mets Season in Review: T.J. Rivera

BY Fansided and Emmanuel Pepis/FanSided via Rising Apple • December 30, 2016

Former undrafted free agent has shown well at every level for Mets organization.

Sep 18, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets third baseman T.J. Rivera (54) hits a home run to left during the third inning against the Minnesota Twins at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Infielder T.J. Rivera was part of the narrative for the New York Mets down the stretch.

Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, Rivera continued to steadily progress through the ranks, hitting more than well enough at every stop along the way. By the time August and September of 2016 came around, Rivera became an important contributor to the Mets’ run to a wild card berth.

It took Rivera over 600 games to get to where he’s at currently. A slow, steady progression saw Rivera play every position in the infield at some point. Yet his bat really stood out for just being steady and consistent.

Rivera never hit double digit homers in a year until 2016, but he always had a knack for getting on base as his .324 minor league average indicates.

Going into 2017 though, Rivera is going to most likely be in a bench role. We’ll get into that more a little later, but his versatility in the field and his ability to hit for average have been two constants throughout his professional career. The Bronx native has done a tremendous job battling his way up to the highest level.

We’ll get into what the future holds for Rivera, but first here is a look back at what his season last year, complete with his first taste of the majors held.

How’d he fare in 2016?

You always remember your first.

After five years of hard work, it culminated with his promotion to the Mets in August. He made his MLB debut on August 10 in a home game against Arizona where he went 1-for-5 at the plate.

Though it was a smaller sample size, the hits continued to rack up at the highest level for Rivera. He finished with a .333 batting average in 105 at-bats. Rivera continued to show the same traits that he had in every stop before. Rivera added a much needed spark and some depth to this Mets lineup.

Rivera’s overall career hasn’t been flashy by any means, but it offered some wow moments during the Mets’ stretch run.

The biggest one of all was his game-winning home run off Mark Melancon in a 4-3 victory over the Nationals on September 13. Not only was it Rivera’s first MLB homer, but it kept the Mets in front in the wild card race. That was also the first homer given up by Melancon in a Nationals uniform.

In the field, Rivera mostly saw action at second base with the injury to Neil Walker. Rivera did play some third as well and had a couple of hiccups along the way. The series at Arizona where Rivera committed three errors in two games was a rough patch, but he was serviceable overall in his chances at the hot corner outside of that stretch.

Room for improvement

Rivera doesn’t have a lot of glaring weaknesses in his game.

There’s something to be said for somebody who can put pressure on an opposing defense more times than not with a plus ability to make contact. Rivera certainly has that and there aren’t any big holes in his mechanics at the plate.

Where he can improve slightly is his defense. Rivera has a career fielding percentage at third of .960, but he’s had to adapt at higher levels as most of the errors have come from AA onward.

Still, there is definite progression and while his primary position is third, Rivera has more than enough versatility to bounce around the infield wherever needed.

Rivera is a natural at the plate and he’s earned positive reviews for what he can do at the plate. His ability combined with his work ethic will ensure that his bat continues to stay productive at the major league level.

Role for 2017

Currently, Rivera is in the mold of Wilmer Flores as far as roles go. Both have bats that can give you a spark off the bench when you need it. Both can play multiple positions around the infield.

Rivera is poised to be a part of the bench to start next season for the Mets with Walker back in the fold.

He will shadow Walker at second primarily, but will see some spot work at third. How much is dependent on the health of David Wright. As far as where his bat fits in the lineup, that can be flexible as well. I mostly believe he’ll be a five or six-hole hitter when he’s in the lineup.

However, his ability to make contact at such a high level could earn him some at-bats in the two-hole as well. Again, there are different lineup combinations with a now stronger bench that Rivera is helping lead into 2017.

Plus, he’ll be a primary pinch hitter in late game situations. Last season, he hit .310 with runners in scoring position and .277 with two outs.

The even more intriguing question about Rivera is his long term future. That’s a subject for another day, but as you all know the infield could be even more crowded by 2018 with the development of guys like Gavin Cecchini and Amed Rosario.

Contract status and trade rumors

It was announced earlier Wednesday that Rivera will be playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, which kicks off on March 6 in South Korea. Rivera will get some extra at-bats in a competition format to help prepare him for a more expanded role next season with the Mets.

His major league service time just started and Rivera has shown himself to be a polished player. It’s been a case of better late than never for Rivera, who will play his first full season in the big leagues at age 28.

It’s really a story that you can’t help but root for: Rivera has been under the radar for most of his entire career, yet continues to produce at a high level.

Will he always be a .300-plus hitter? That part remains to be seen, but fans will no doubt get the same work ethic from Rivera that brought him to this point.

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