Over the past two seasons, T.J. Rivera has been a welcome addition to the Mets on the field and an interesting story to monitor off of it. The Bronx native was signed as a undrafted free agent out of Troy University in 2011, and he rose through the ranks of the Mets’ minor league system, outhitting players of higher pedigree along the way. He eventually was called up to the big leagues in 2016 and played a larger role with the 2017 team.
Rivera has hit .304/.335/.445 with a 108 wRC+ in 344 plate appearances since his debut. His relative lack of power (.141 career ISO) and lack of walks (3.5% walk rate) may limit his ability to grab a starting position in the majors, but his bat has clearly been above average during his time in Queens.
On top of his offense, Rivera has experience at first, second, and third base, though he does not grade out considerably well at any of them, with 0 DRS and 0.7 UZR at first, -1 DRS and -0.3 UZR at second, and -5 DRS and -1.1 UZR at third. He even has very limited experience in the outfield, a whole 9.1 innings in left field.
The contact-only offensive profile and average-at-best glove doesn’t typically equal a starter, but Rivera is a player most teams would love to have as their sixth infielder—and in a world where bullpens are growing and taking an extra roster spot away from the bench, a possible fifth outfielder. But Rivera’s 2018 season is already up in the air.
In September, he underwent Tommy John surgery, which immediately put the beginning of his 2018 season in jeopardy. He is officially going to miss time to start this season, as he was placed on the 60-day disabled list when the Mets made their recent signing of Jason Vargas official.
It is hard to say what lies in store for Rivera this year. He’s been reliable off the bench since he debuted, but his injury puts a damper on that. While the path to a bench role is easy to see for Rivera, that assumes that he does not suffer any setbacks between now and the end of his stint on the disabled list. Rivera has overcome the odds on countless occasions in his professional career and could very well do it again.