With Vernon Wells gone and Jose Bautista moving to third base (for the time being at least), it’s all change in the outfield for the Toronto Blue Jays. Only Travis Snider remains from last season’s outfield lineup and he wasn’t even a full-time starter (53 games in left field and 29 in right).
Heading into Spring Training, depending on what you read, newcomer Juan Rivera either has the inside track on a starting position in the outfield or is headed out the door almost as soon as he has arrived.
The question is: If he does stay, will he be able to help the Jays carry over the momentum from last season’s 85-win campaign?
Although not known for his speed, Rivera is able to get a good jump on the ball and is capable of playing in any of the outfield positions due to a strong throwing arm.
In terms of his batting style, the signs are promising as he has both a high contact and low strikeout rate, something that will be vital to the Jays as they look to become more multi-dimensional with their batting approach.
Of course, some Jays fans will be interested in delving deeper into Rivera’s career to see what exactly they are getting.
Born in Venezuela, he was signed as a non-draft amateur free agent by the New York Yankees in 1996. However, Rivera did not make his Major League debut until 2001, when he briefly appeared in three games.
Rivera received more playing time in 2002, and was named as the Yankees' No. 1 prospect by Baseball America. The magazine described him as being blessed with excellent defensive skills, above-average raw power and capable of "crushing fastballs."
However, it wasn’t until 2003, after a spell in Triple-A, that he started to show his ability. In 57 games, he hit seven home runs with 26 RBI and a .266 batting average.
Despite his potential, Rivera found himself traded to the Montreal Expos for the 2004 season.
That proved to be a blessing in disguise as he finally got to perform on a regular basis, featuring in 134 games for Canada’s other team. He finished the year with an excellent .307 batting average and added 12 home runs and 49 RBI.
The Los Angeles Angels thought enough of Rivera that they traded for him following the season. After seeing time as an outfielder and a designated hitter in his first year with the club, Rivera finally became an everyday player for the 2006 campaign.
With more stability, he averaged a career-high .310 average, together with 23 home runs and 85 RBI.
Unfortunately, he was unable to build on this as he suffered an injury that kept him out for the majority of 2007, save for 14 games in September.
However, after the 2008 campaign, the Angels showed their faith in Rivera by signing him to a three-year contract worth $12.75 million.
During the next two seasons, Rivera was a regular—but erratic—contributor. The best example of this was 2009 when he set career-highs with 25 home runs and 88 RBI, but was also criticised for his poor base-running.
Indeed, respected baseball analyst Bill James called him the worst baserunner that year, saying his overaggressive tactics cost the Angels an estimated 40 runs.
This might explain part of the reason that Rivera was included in the deal that saw him traded to the Blue Jays along with Mike Napoli in exchange for Vernon Wells.
Rivera will make $5.25 million in the final year of his contract and he has Bautista to thank for his opportunity to potentially start. If the home run slugger had stayed in right field, the Jays' new signing would have become the team’s fourth outfielder.
With all of the trades that GM Alex Anthopoulous makes, it would be no surprise if Rivera has been moved on by the time you have finished reading this article.
However, if he does stay, he should prove to be a useful option, even if it is only in the short-term.
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