Mets infielder T.J. Rivera picked up three more hits and two RBI during Thursday's 6-3 win against the Marlins in Miami.
Rivera, 28, has at least three hits in eight of 57 starts during his big-league career. He also has 11 multi-hit games this season, during which he's batting .303.
The Mets demoted Rivera to Triple-A when Yoenis Cespedes was activated from the disabled list June 11. However, he rejoined the team two days later when Asdrubal Cabrera went on the DL.
"It wasn't what I wanted as a player," Rivera said that day, despite hitting just .255 through 102 at-bats. "I had some opportunities earlier and I felt good. It's unfortunate."
However, in the 13 games since his promotion, thanks in part to Cabrera being on the shelf, Rivera is batting .302 and has started 10 games combined at first, second and third base.
"I'm trying to stay with my approach and stay in the middle of the field," he said after Thursday's game, according to NJ.com. "My goal is to always hit the ball hard and stay up the middle of the field, because if I start to pull a little too much they're going to expose me as a hitter."
Jun 29, 2017; T.J. Rivera (54) doubles against the Marlins. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
He's a compelling player, in part because he's a local kid, born and raised in the Bronx. He started his college baseball career at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. He wasn't drafted, though.
Thankfully, his coach in Alabama, former Mets C Mackey Sasser, recommended Rivera to a local scout, who advocated him being acquired by the Mets, who eventually signed him in 2011 as a free agent. Before finally making his big-league debut at 27 years old last summer, Rivera accumulated nearly 2,400 at bats in the minor leagues across five full seasons, during which he never hit below .289 at any level.
The knock on T.J., according to people in player development departments, is that, because he swings a lot and isn't great at connecting with off-speed pitches, eventually big-league pitching will catch up to him. As a result, he'll be unable to sustain his contact rate. Also, because he rarely walks, when he gets unlucky and starts hitting right at guys, his average will plummet. And, since he mostly just hits singles, he'll repeatedly be forced back to the bench.
The thing is, so far, that hasn't happened. He hit .333 in 105 at-bats for the Mets in 2016. And, he's batting .282 in 145 at-bats this season, while getting better the more he plays.
That said, I can't land on where I think Rivera should be playing every day.
He's such a good, little player, incredibly useful, and seemingly always doing things -- be it large or small -- to help the Mets win games. His two great strengths are that he is incredibly adaptable and he's a terrific situational hitter. It doesn't matter where he hits or plays in the field because his approach is always the same.
For instance, he knows when to be aggressive, but also knows when to lay back and he does it no matter where he's hitting in the lineup, who's on base or who isn't. Similarly, he plays second base like a tried-and-true second baseman, then adjusts and plays third base like a tried-and-true third baseman. It never feels like jamming a square peg in to a round hole, which is often the case in situations like this.
In short, I just think he's got a really good feel for who he is, what he can and can't do, he's always aware of what is happening in the game at that moment and understands how he best fits in to that situation. He'd probably make a really good manager one day.
For now, as a player, he's basically using his smarts and awareness to maximize his abilities, which may or may not be good enough to sustain as an every day player, but he's clearly much better than being only relegated to hitting off the bench.
At 28 years old with six minor-league seasons behind him, T.J. has now played in 75 games at five different positions during his short big-league career. In that time, he has 275 big-league at-bats and is hitting .303 with 20 extra base hits.
He's batting .297 as a starting player, .290 off the bench, .306 in high-leverage situations, .294 with runners on base and .306 when leading off an inning. Also, he's twice competed for a playoff spot on a team in New York, he's greeted fans, signed autographs and talked countless times with reporters, and done it all with a class and a smile.
I have no idea what the rest of this season has in store for the Mets, as it pertains to being a playoff team or trading away or acquiring players at the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. That said, I do know the Mets intend to compete as a playoff team again in 2018, during which they'll have several key positions to fill because a lot of their guys will be eligible for free agency this winter.
As a result, they should have at least $60 million freed up to spend on new talent. However, to allocate that money in the most effective way, the Mets need to know what they have in a guy like Rivera, who will be making the league minimum salary each of the next two seasons.
The point is, if the Mets can enter this winter knowing Rivera is or isn't capable of being an everyday third or second baseman -- who can deliver the 1.5 full-season WAR his current numbers project to be -- it could mean the difference between Sandy Alderson spending $10 million on a new infielder or going with Rivera and using that money to fill a different need.
In addition to continuing to do their best to sell tickets, remain relevant, entertaining and make the playoffs this season, the Mets also need to use this time to learn more about the big-league capabilities of Rivera, Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores, and prospects Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario. If they don't, they'll likely waste money when trying to retool their lineup for 2018...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is the lead writer and creator of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003 ... His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!