C Rene Rivera (Getty Images)
A second round pick by the Mariners in 2001, catcher Rene Rivera is the organization's catcher of the future. Only 20, the Puerto Rican native is at High-A Inland Empire and progressing nicely. Inland Empire beat writer Jonathan Bianchet reports on Rivera in this InsidethePark exclusive.
Inland Empire catcher Rene Rivera may be young but he is gaining confidence. He has played winter ball in Puerto Rico. He has learned from other major league catchers. And at 20 years of age, he is unmistakably considered the catcher of the future for the Seattle Mariners.
To say the least, the future appears bright for Rivera. The 2001 second round draft pick is confident that one day he will belong in the big leagues, but as of now he isn’t concerned when that time may be.
“I don’t live for tomorrow, I live for today,” said Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico. “If I play hard today and each day at a time, things will fall into place.”
Thus far in 2004, Rivera has been a solid contributor to the 66ers’ lineup, batting .265 with four home runs and 30 RBI. Those totals put him on pace to eclipse last year’s offensive totals. Perhaps even more impressive, it must be noted, has been his composure behind the plate.
He has guided a young pitching staff to the second best record in the California League with a 3.94 ERA and has helped put the team in contention for a first half championship, which would guarantee a spot in the playsoffs come September.
Rivera has brought a well-rounded game to the field each night out, priding himself on his defense The young easy-going catcher has thrown out 42.4 percent (28/68) of would-be base-stealers, the best percentage of any starting catcher in the Cal League. His .993 fielding percentage is also the best of any catcher in the Cal League as he has only three errors. On top of that, Rivera has only allowed six passed balls against him.
Though the work behind the plate can often be a tough grind, Rivera never allows that to make him lose sight of his goals. He knows where catching can take him.
“It’s pretty hard but it’s my job,” said Rivera, who has caught in 49 of the team’s 58 games. “It’s going to take me to the big leagues. I have to get ready here, so I can move on and have fun there.”
Like the unbalanced schedule the Major League teams play today, the California League also has such a schedule. They play 110 of their 140 games against the four other teams in their Southern Division, nearly 30 games per each team. That makes it easier to know your opponents at times, but as Rivera explains it can be tough and challenging at the same time.
“They know our weaknesses and we know their weaknesses,” he said.
By making adjustments, you get better. But you have to be able to make adjustments to your game.”
The top catcher in the organization is always thinking. Not only are adjustments required in his at bats, but also from behind the plate. Even at the Single-A level, Rivera will sit down with his pitcher and talk about some of the hitters and the approach that will be taken to attack them during the game. Rivera has been able to gain the trust with his pitchers over the years, especially since many of them have been together for up to three years.
“We have played with each other in the past,” said Rivera. “We are like a family and when you have that, you play well.”
Defense is the most important facet of game for a catcher, especially in the mind of Rivera.
“You have to know your pitcher and communicate with him along with the seven other guys that are in front of you,” said Rivera, who received this information from Mariner catcher Dan Wilson in spring training. “You need to be smart; know you starters, relievers and opponents. The hitting is all extra.”
Extra is indeed the way to describe Rivera’s production at the plate. Even though Rivera is hitting .265, he has been one of the most clutch hitters on the team. He has a .287 batting average with runners in scoring position, and has continually given the 66ers the tying runs or winning runs in games this season. Of Rivera’s hits this year, over a third of them have been for extra base hits. He has 15 doubles, good for the team lead.
Rivera has been having fun this year in Southern California. Playing the game he loves, he is continuing to shine, showing why the Mariners took him the second round three years ago. As the always smiling Rivera takes life one day at a time, it may soon be hard for Mariners fans not to wonder what day he’ll be in a Mariners uniform.