Mets infielder T.J. Rivera started his college baseball career at Wallace Community College in Dothan, Alabama. There, he was coached by former Mets catcher Mackey Sasser, and after two standout seasons at the school, he transferred to Troy University, where he hit .299 over his junior and senior seasons.
Rivera’s name was never called in the fifty rounds of the 2011 amateur draft following his senior season. After the draft, however, Sasser recommended his former player to a Mets scout. The Mets signed him as an undrafted free agent shortly thereafter.
In his minor league career, Rivera has hit .324, and he’s had to prove himself at every level. In 2015, Rivera hit .325/.364/.449 in 110 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. Following that stellar season in the upper levels of the minor leagues, the Mets did not add him to the 40-man roster, leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 draft. Again, everybody passed on him.
The Las Vegas 51s welcomed Rivera back to start the 2016 season. In the month of May, he hit .373 with five home runs and won the Pacific Coast League’s Player of the Month award. Because of early season injuries to Mets infielders David Wright, Lucas Duda, and Wilmer Flores, the Mets were forced to call up some young players. Eric Campbell, Matt Reynolds, and Ty Kelly were all called up over the scorching-hot Rivera, and the Mets even went outside the organization to sign James Loney. Rivera eventually won the PCL’s batting title.
When Neil Walker went to the disabled list in September, after major league rosters expanded, Rivera finally got his shot and made the most of it. Claiming the everyday second base job in the midst of a tight Wild Card race, Rivera hit .333/.345/.476 in 33 games with 3 home runs and 16 RBIs. He got to start at second base and bat fifth against Madison Bumgarner and the Giants in the Mets’ Wild Card game, and he doubled for one of the Mets’ four hits in the game.
Rivera will again look to prove doubters wrong in 2017 and make the Mets out of spring training. What makes him so useful is not only his consistently high batting average, but also his positional flexibility. Last year with the Mets, he spent time at second base, third base, and first base. In a pinch, he can also be used at shortstop and in the corner outfield positions, making him a valuable asset off the bench.
Rivera, a Bronx native, is currently playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. When he returns to the Mets, he will continue to battle it out with fellow infielders Matt Reynolds and Gavin Cecchini for a bench spot.