Mets prospect T.J. Rivera emerging as a third base alternative

Mar 19, 2015; Jupiter, FL, USA; New York Mets third baseman T.J. Rivera (5) connects for a two RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2015; Jupiter, FL, USA; New York Mets third baseman T.J. Rivera (5) connects for a two RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports /

Having a break out season playing third base for the Las Vegas 51s, prospect T.J. Rivera is fast becoming the Mets next potential option at third base.

No one can say with any degree of certainty whether David Wright, 33, will ever regain optimal playing health.  His intention, however, is to attempt a comeback once he recovers from neck surgery either later this season, or next.  Therefore, a decision to retire will also not be forthcoming.

I believe this hinders Sandy Alderson’s ability to search for mid-to-longer term third base options outside the organization.  Yet, three potential targets continue dominating recent fan/media scuttlebutt: Yulieski Gourriel, Danny Valencia, and Todd Frazier.

Due to his participation in previous World Baseball Classics, Cuban standout and recently declared free agent Yulieski Gourriel is no longer a stranger to American baseball fans.  He can surely be had for a price, and I’d like to have him play for the Mets, but the years Gourriel will likely seek are problematic in relation to Wright’s uncertain status.

Beyond this season, we must assume David Wright will return next spring looking to reclaim his position.  That’s why I do not believe the front office would risk potentially having both Gourriel and Wright on the books together – especially with no hint of Yoenis Cespedes‘ intentions to either opt-in or out of the final two years of his contract.

Once David Wright’s disabled status exceeds 60 days, any subsequent potential raise in this year’s payroll would indeed be offset by the 75 percent return on ownership’s insurance policy against his contract.  And the front office has indeed flexed a little more muscle these last two years.

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Ownership, however, hasn’t exactly escaped their onerous debt, yet.  Instead, they’ve merely refinanced much of it through the remainder of the decade.  Therefore spending remains something easier said than done, thus making how much further ownership can feasibly raise payroll this year, next year, or even in the years that will follow, difficult to determine.

With regards to addressing third base via the trade route, I have zero interest in either aforementioned candidate.

Now in his seventh MLB season, Oakland’s Danny Valencia, 31, primarily has been a part-time journeyman for six different American League teams.  He will be arbitration eligible in 2017, after which, he’s due to become a free agent.

Todd Frazier, 30, is eligible for free agency this coming off-season.  He can play third and first base, and would add power.  I’ll cede him that, but I otherwise have no interest in a .197 hitter.

That’s because any potential trade for Todd Frazier (or Danny Valencia) could additionally require parting with even more minor league prospects.  In that scenario, I just do not find either player price worthy – not when the Mets have a potential in-house solution for this transient dilemma who can certainly do no worse.

If needed, the Mets can promote third baseman T.J. Rivera from Las Vegas.

A native New Yorker out of Bronx, he went undrafted after graduating Troy University in Alabama.   Now a six-year minor league veteran, he’s presently making a strong case for a return trip back to the Big Apple, but this time for an opportunity to play in Queens.

After starting the season 5/19 at the plate, Rivera has been tormenting Pacific Coast League pitchers to the tune of a .371 average through 218 at-bats ever since. He was named PCL Player of the Month for May after batting .373 with 5 home runs, and posting a league leading 47 hits and 31 RBI.  His 69 total bases were additionally tied for second.

For the season, T.J. Rivera is slashing .363/.402/.523, with seven home runs and 52 RBI through 60 games and 237 at-bats.

How does his season presently rate against the competition?

  • Games – 6th
  • Average – 2nd
  • OBP – 9th
  • Slugging – 6th
  • Runs – 3rd
  • Hits – 2nd
  • Doubles – 1st
  • HR – tied 6th
  • RBI – 3rd
  • Walks – 8th
  • Total Bases – 2nd
  • Strikeouts – 2nd

By third base standards, he doesn’t necessarily project for power.  He only has 31 home runs in 2,247 career minor league at-bats.  Like Brandon Nimmo, T.J. Rivera never slugged above .500 until he arrived in Las Vegas and the Pacific Coast League. He is, however, a career .323 hitter, and now has 114 games and 420 at-bats worth of triple-A experience.

He’s been on the seven day disabled list since June 16, and is due to return this week.

The Las Vegas 51s have utilized Rivera this season in a somewhat jack of all trades role, at times positioning him at first base, second, third, and left field.  He’s played more career games at second base, but third has been his primary position this season under Wally Backman.  In 580 career minor league games, he started 111 at third.  That can only help Rivera’s cause should Sandy Alderson contemplate handing him an opportunity in light of David Wright’s absence, and should Wilmer Flores‘ game head south.

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With regular playing time, there’s no telling how Wilmer Flores will evolve as a third baseman.  For the moment, it’s his job to lose.  Wilmer previously played 162 career games for the Las Vegas 51s, and like Nimmo and T.J. Rivera, never slugged .500 until his arrival in the Pacific Coast League.

Entering Tuesday’s action, Wilmer is 16 for 48 (.333) since June 3, when he first took over third base full-time.

Wilmer Flores, by the way, is out of options, but can not refuse an outright assignment.  If he plays well, that won’t matter.  But should Flores falter down the line, why not consider T.J. Rivera as a viable alternative at third base?

That’s what developing prospects is all about.