In the midst of a lost season for the Mets, an unlikely bright note has emerged -- T.J. Rivera. A red-hot July during which he has hit .394 with five extra-base hits over 37 plate appearances has pushed his OPS over .800 and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Despite going undrafted, Rivera has developed into a solid hitter and has the potential to be a valuable piece of the team going forward.
From the time he arrived in the Mets system, Rivera showed that he could hit. He never batted below .300 at any level and secured the 2016 Pacific Coast League batting title with a .353 average and a .909 OPS. He was never ranked as a top prospect, in part due to his relatively advanced age, but that performance earned him a well-deserved call-up to the big leagues last season, where he slashed .333/.345/.476 in 113 plate appearances.
There were few expectations of a repeat performance from Rivera going into 2017. His walk rate was under 3 percent, he didn't have much power and regression seemed inevitable from a 28-year-old entering his rookie year. Instead, he has been one of their best batters and may be hitting his way into a bigger role in 2018 and beyond.
With much of the Mets infield expected to turn over next year, Rivera's positional flexibility offers a lot of options. Unfortunately, he is not especially gifted in defending any position -- particularly third base -- where he is a real liability.
A better role for him, and one that would leave the Mets in a more secure position if he does begin to struggle at the plate, would be a super-utility player. He could provide a platoon partner to the left-handed Dominic Smith at first base while also seeing time at second. He can fill in at third and in the outfield in a pinch, but it's best if he doesn't get too much exposure there.
As the team looks ahead to the rest of the season and to next year, there are a few concerns surrounding Rivera to keep an eye on. The biggest is that his major league career is still a relatively small sample. The history books are littered with players who hit the cover off the ball for more than his 315 plate appearances, who the league eventually adjusted to.
When Rivera's .343 batting average on balls in play drops, which it's almost certain to do once opponents start to take advantage of his high pull percentage, he will need to improve his plate discipline in order to maintain a decent on base percentage. He is currently walking in just 4.5 percent of his plate appearances -- a number only elite contact hitters can get away with.
Rivera also doesn't hit for much power, his recent hot start notwithstanding, further emphasizing his need to hit close to .300 in order to remain productive.
Despite these warts and his humble beginnings, Rivera has been a fun hitter to watch and an easy player to root for. So much so that other teams have begun to take notice as trade season heats up, though the Mets won't part quickly with an inexpensive player who fits with their needs so well. Expect this lifelong New Yorker to be a familiar face in Queens for a good while.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring