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2023 Diamondbacks Reviews: #26 Emmanuel Rivera

Too many grounders.

World Series - Texas Rangers v. Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Three Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images
  • Rating: 5.20
Rivera’s ratings are a big in your face.
  • 2023 stats: 86 G, 257 AB, .261/.314/.358, 84 OPS+, 0.3 bWAR
  • Date of birth: June 29, 1996 (27 years old)
  • 2023 earnings: $538,069 (via Spotrac)
  • 2024 status: On 40-man roster, Pre-Arb, 0 options remaining.

Introduction

Emmanuel Rivera was drafted in the 19th round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft out of a San Juan college on Puerto Rico. Not the most common college where you’d pick a possible MLB talent from, but apparently he didn’t really stand out in his high school years and wasn’t able to get a scholarship from an American University.

Being a 19th round pick, expectations were probably low, and Rivera indeed struggled quite a lot after coming over to the States: in 2015 he struggles to a .534 OPS in the complex league and in 2016 to a .690 OPS in the Rookie league.

A strong 2017 in Class A puts him on the radar of scouts. He hits for a .310/.364/.468 in Lexington. He has an okay 2.81 SO/BB, doesn’t walk a lot nor does he strike out too much. What does stand out, though, is his tendency to ground into double plays: 17 over the season.

“He has a chance to be a special player on defence at the hot corner and he could develop just enough offensive skill to be an everyday player. He needs to become a little more patient at the plate which could help him hit for a better average and find more balls to drive with authority.” - FanGraphs on Emmanuel Rivera in 2017

But the power doesn’t show up in A+ and it looks like he isn’t a standout defensive player at third base either, so the tune soon turns around:

“He’s not a very good defensive infielder, however, and doesn’t have the power to profile at places further down the defensive spectrum. [...] He may end up playing a corner bench role [...]” - FanGraphs on Emmanuel Rivera in 2019

He disappears from FanGraphs’ Royals prospect lists, but makes his debut in the major leagues in 2021, so returns to the list in 2022, predicting a tiny utility or bench role. He is a regular on a miserable Royals’ squad, with a modest OPS of below .700 in the majors.

His move to the Diamondbacks in 2022 is just as surprising as it actually isn’t. There certainly is some potential, but within Rivera there is probably not a regular player hiding. But the best news is that the Diamondbacks are able to haul him in for pitcher Luke Weaver, who has been terrible in 2022 and is qualified as unfit for duty.

There are many things you can say about Emmanuel Rivera, but one thing is certain: we won that trade with the Royals. Although Rivera’s production at 3B was and is below average, his bWAR is still positive over 125 games, which isn’t something the Royals can say about Luke Weaver, who has hopped from team to team (but won 2 of 3 games against the Diamondbacks, of course).

2023 review

At the beginning of the season I questioned the decision of Emmanuel Rivera to go and play at the WBC for Puerto Rico. The Diamondbacks had just found their platoon bat for Josh Rojas at 3B when they signed Evan Longoria and with those two there, would Rivera not become the odd man out at 3B? Was his spot on the 40-man roster in jeopardy?

But you have to understand the decision Rivera took and he probably thought it through really well. He got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent his Puerto Rico at the only major tournament baseball has. And not only that: after Carlos Correa opted out of the tournament because his wife would expect their child soon, the 3B position on the team was up for grabs.

Emmanuel Rivera took his chance and was one the best representatives the Diamondbacks had at the World Baseball Classic: he achieved 5 hits and 5 RBI in 18 at bats (5 games). We dubbed it “hopeful”, after a 2022 season that ended with an injury, but it wasn’t impressive. With Longoria and Rojas entrenched at 3B and Rivera not at Spring Training, it was no surprise the Puerto Rican found himself in Reno when the season started.

Rivera had to wait 16 games before he was recalled to the big leagues. During those games he hit a fine .969 OPS for the Aces, which was well above league average at that moment.

The call-up was a bit “weird” in such a sense that Rojas and Longoria weren’t slumping at that moment although the first had just started his downward spiral and Longoria had gotten a bit colder after a hot start to the season. Rivera replaced the slumping Jake McCarthy, so there was clearly going to be some DH and 3B rotation.

Rivera kept on riding the hot bat after his return to the MLB, but with hardly any power at all. By the end of May he had a terrific .338 batting average, but an OPS of a “mere” .823 while knocking in just 1 homerun and splitting time, as expected, between the DH and 3B-position, with the occasional stand in for Christian Walker at first. He then slumped a bit in June, crawled back to sustainable stats in July, but then in August was sent back to AAA after going hitless in 7 consecutive games.

The Diamondbacks tried to run Buddy Kennedy instead of Rivera out there, but when that plan fell through they turned to Rivera again, who had once again torn up the PCL meanwhile.

After returning to the majors he once again could not impress and the rest of the regular season he hit a disappointing .583 OPS.

He would appear 4 times in the NLCS against the Phillies and 3 times in the World Series, so that was definitely a great experience to have for Emmanuel Rivera, although he wasn’t that successful. He did knock in 2 RBI in the blow-out win over the Rangers in Game 2, but was also tagged with an error in Game 4 against the Phillies that cost the Diamondbacks 2 runs.

Apart from that error (and a couple of others), Rivera was good defensively, valued positively on FanGraphs.

2024 outlook

The problem in 2023 for Emmanuel Rivera was the huge amount of grounders, which is remarkable, because that was also one of the few non-intentational comments we had about his WBC performance. The weakness in 2023 was the fastball: the third-baseman hit just .216 on the 4 seamer. His 9 GIDP was one of the highest on the team, but if you look on the outside, it isn’t much more worse than Tommy Pham, Evan Longoria or Lourdes Gurriel Jr., except that all of those guys pop the ball a lot harder than Rivera and his .097 ISO. That is a huge problem for a guy that hits a grounder in almost half of his at bats.

It is rather weird that he was that bad when facing a fastball, because Rivera had no problem at all in putting it away in 2022, so you’d imagine it is something that can be corrected.

That’s rather necessary, because with Eugenio Suarez the Diamondbacks have acquired a guy that will get the lion share of duties at 3B, to provide some extra slugging from the 3B position, something the team obviously isn’t expecting from Rivera and what scout reports have never expected from him.

If we look at the depth chart Rivera is basically the back-up for Suarez at 3B where he might get some extra playing time if the Diamondbacks aren’t able to find their power hitter and Suarez gets regular reps at DH.

The biggest threat for Rivera, who doesn’t look much more than a bench player long term, is probably Jordan Lawlar. If the top prospect is able to hit MLB pitching, then we will probably see Geraldo Perdomo slide over more often than not to third.

If you look purely at the 40-man roster list, you’d say that of all position players Jace Peterson, Diego Castillo and Pavin Smith are probably more likely to get the hook sooner than Emmanuel Rivera when the time comes to make a decision. Rivera, to me, is a lock to get claimed because of the okay defence and his age.