Player: Mariano Rivera III
DOB: 10/4/1993 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 5'11", 155 lbs
Previously Drafted: 2014 (29th round, NYY)
When the New York Yankees selected the son of legendary closer Mariano Rivera as a draft-eligible sophomore last season in the 29th round, it could have been viewed as a favor to one of the team's all-time greats.
Rivera III was not satisfied with simply being drafted, though, and he returned to Iona for his junior season in an effort to boost his stock.
"I feel like as a person, I was always hard on myself," Rivera III told Ian Sacks of Iona College (via YouTube). "I wanted to go in the top 10 rounds. That didn't happen last year, but hopefully this year it will. I feel like I've done good enough to have that well under the 10th round. It's all a mystery right now. I left it all on the field. Let's see what happens."
After posting a 7.25 ERA and 1.94 WHIP in 36 innings of work as a freshman, Rivera III took a step forward as a sophomore, but he was still far from a highly regarded prospect.
Joining the rotation full time, he went 2-6 with a 5.40 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 6.43 strikeouts per nine innings with five complete games and a shutout, but his stuff was still mediocre at best for someone projected to be a reliever at the next level.
With his chances of following in his father's footsteps and playing in the majors looking like a long shot, a crazy thing happened this spring—his stuff took off, and he emerged as a legitimate prospect.
His fastball velocity spiked, and his slider emerged as a legitimate out pitch, and his numbers were dramatically improved as a result.
Stepping into the role of staff ace, Rivera III went 5-7 with a 2.65 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 113 strikeouts in 85 innings to win Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year honors.
He's not the same pitcher as his father, starting with the lack of that signature cut fastball, but he still has late-inning potential.
Consider the following scouting report from Baseball America:
Some scouts feel that his arm speed is unparalleled and after pitching in the low 90s last year, Rivera has consistently worked 92-95 this spring, having begun to fill out his shoulders, and he still projects for more velocity. Rivera’s delivery isn’t very conventional, with heavy lean to his glove side and an artificial over-the-top arm slot. He struggles to repeat his landing, and may have to tone down his delivery at the next level. Rivera is effective when he pitches down in the zone with his fastball and late-breaking slider.
He projects as a solid middle reliever, with the upside to pitch even later in the game.
With a full-time move to the bullpen and a focus on his fastball/slider combination, Rivera III could take off with that conventional two-pitch combination in the late innings.
Considering how much his stuff has improved in the past year, there is also some legitimate hope that he has room for further improvement over the next few years.
MLB Player Comparison: Jason Frasor
He still has a decent amount of work to do on his secondary pitches, but Rivera III currently features the same three-pitch repertoire of longtime setup man Jason Frasor with a slider/splitter combination to back his mid-90s fastball.
Rivera Jr. throws a bit harder than Frasor, who topped out at 93.9 miles per hour on his average fastball back in 2008, via FanGraphs, but the two could turn into similar pitchers serving in a similar role in the big leagues.
If his slider takes off as a second truly plus offering, Rivera III has legitimate closer potential, but as things currently stand, he looks like a useful middle-relief arm.
Projection: Setup reliever with closer potential
Major League ETA: 2018
Chances of Signing: 90 percent
Considering his personal goal of going in the first 10 rounds has been reached, Rivera III looks like a safe bet to sign this time around.