T.J. Rivera: From Undrafted to Key Contributor

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 14: T.J. Rivera #54 of the New York Mets plays second base against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

The New York Mets find themselves in the thick of a playoff race. With only a few regular season games to go, the Mets could find themselves anywhere from the first Wild Card to no playoff appearance at all. The Mets, San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals are three teams vying for the two Wild Card spots.

Each of these teams have their own shortcomings. The Giants have a troubling closer situation, the Cardinals have trouble with defense, and the Mets have a slew of injuries to deal with. The reason that the Mets are atop these two teams right now is due to the success of their replacements. The Mets have gotten some good innings from unlikely pitchers, as well as some good at-bats from unlikely hitters. One of those hitters is T.J. Rivera.

T.J. Rivera: From Undrafted to Key Contributor

Who Is T.J. Rivera?

Thomas Javier Rivera is a 27-year-old Bronx native who attended Troy University. Rivera was not drafted out of Troy, but instead was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Mets in 2011. While some undrafted free agents in other sports, like the NFL, can put together decent or even Hall of Fame careers, it is less common in MLB. That’s partly because of the size of the MLB draft, compared to the other drafts. Right now, the MLB draft features 40 rounds. That is 33 more rounds than the NFL and NHL drafts, and 38 more rounds than the NBA draft.

Rivera had to start in one of the lowest levels in the Mets minor league system: Rookie-level Kingsport. From there, he started his rise by passing through the next five levels. Throughout all six minor league teams, and a few seasons of foreign baseball in between, Rivera never hit below .289 in a season. In 718 games and 2,713 at-bats, he hit for a slash line of .324/.369/.437.

Rivera’s Impact On the Mets

Rivera made his major league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 10 and got his first major league hit in that game. In his sixth game, he had his first career four-hit performance.

After going 11/31 (.355) in nine games, he was sent down to Triple-A on August 19. Over the following few weeks, he took a lot of flights, as he was called up again on August 23, sent down on August 26, called up the next day, and then sent down on August 29. He finished the Triple-A season by winning the Pacific Coast League batting title.

Once the Triple-A season was finished he was called up for good on September 6. Since his recall, he has gone 19/48 (.396). Overall on the season, Rivera played in 29 games and has 86 at-bats. In that small sample size, he has hit .349/.362/.488 with three home runs and 14 RBI. Rivera is no Gary Sanchez, but given the fact that he was undrafted and never a top prospect, his contributions seem that much more valuable.

What Makes Rivera Stand Out

Triple-A has been revolving door for the Mets this year. Thanks to the plethora of injuries, many players have been given chances to play. Most of these Mets hitters have succeeded in their time this year at Triple-A, but have struggled in the majors.

By analyzing their batting averages, one can see a big gap in production from Triple-A to MLB. Matt Reynolds, Kevin Plawecki, Eric Campbell, Ty Kelly, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto have hit .264, .300, .301, .328, .352, and .422 in Triple-A, respectively. Those batting averages all decline, and most by a lot, when you look at their MLB numbers. In the majors, Reynolds, Plawecki, Campbell, Kelly, Nimmo, and Conforto have hit .221, .188, .183, .232, .264, and .221, respectively. In comparison, Rivera has hit .353 in Triple-A and .349 in the majors, which is barely any drop off at all.

If one considers the fact that Conforto and Nimmo were first-round picks and Plawecki was a conditional first-round pick, it also furthers the value of what Rivera has done so far.

Rivera’s future with the Mets is uncertain when all the injured players come back next year. Right now, however, he has hit his way into MLB and is helping the Mets during a playoff run. If he gets playing time in the post-season, he could be valuable. He has shown so far that he can hit at any level and under any circumstances. That is the type of hitter that the Mets could use in the playoffs.

Should the one game play-in Wild Card be expanded to a three game series? in LastWordOnSports’s Hangs on LockerDome

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