Editor’s note: Latest in a series looking at the Tigers’ first 10 draft picks.
Reynaldo Rivera was the 150th-ranked draft prospect, according to MLB.com, and No. 191 by Baseball America.
The Tigers, though, couldn’t have cared less, pouncing on the skyscraper of a left-handed hitter in the second round of this week’s Major League Baseball Draft.
They got an extended look at the slugger from Chipola College, a junior college in Florida. He played several games at TigerTown, in the JUCO state tournament, and had a JUCO World Series that scouts won’t soon forget.
“You’re just trying to get as much impact as you can,” said Scott Pleis, the Tigers’ director of amateur scouting. “Look at (Aaron) Judge (Yankees rookie slugger), and just the sensation he’s been and just what he’s done.
“And I’m not comparing him to any of our guys. You’re trying to get whatever impact you can.”
And the Tigers definitely believe they got big-time potential in Rivera, a Puerto Rico native who spent two years at Chipola, the JUCO behemoth that’s been home to such stars as Jose Bautista and Russell Martin — and this year had 10 draft picks, behind only Michigan and Texas (11 each).
Rivera, a first baseman/outfielder who’s 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, hit 20 home runs with 77 RBIs this season, much of that coming in the two high-profile events.
At TigerTown, he hit three home runs, including one of Tigers’ fourth-round pick, Gio Arriera.
“Yeah, that was crazy,” Arriera said, laughing. “His first at-bat, I struck him out. His next at-bat, he let it go. Yeah, he’s really impressive.
“I guess we’ll be teammates!”
One of the home runs at TigerTown, scouts still are gushing over. It was a bomb to right, hit so far, on the roof where the old batting cages used to be, that only Prince Fielder has gone there, by most observers’ recollection.
“They’ve got it on video,” Pleis said. “He hit a bomb.”
Then, at the JUCO World Series, Rivera had five home runs and 14 RBIs in the last six games as Chipole won the national championship.
Both tournaments convinced the Tigers he was their game, rankings be damned.
“He’s got huge power. Where would he rank (among prospects the Tigers have drafted)? I don’t know,” Pleis said, chuckling. “He’s got as much power as anybody I’ve seen in a while, especially left-handed. It’s huge power. He’s a big kid, and he’s still growing. He’s gonna fill out some more.”
His college coach agrees.
Chipola coach Jeff Johnson said Rivera is athletic for his size. He arrived at Chipola at about 215, from the International Baseball Academy & High School in Puerto Rico. (The Tigers were high on him when he still was in Puerto Rico.) At 250 now, Johnson said he could still add another 15 pounds.
Rivera also has a well-respected eye at the plate, though was penalized at times by a wide JUCO strike zone. He’ll be happier with the tighter strike zone, whether he starts in rookie ball at Lakeland or short-season A ball in Connecticut.
Johnson opened some eyes earlier this week, when in a conversation with The News, he said Rivera has a chance to be as good or maybe even better than another of his former pupils, Bautista. Relayed to Rivera, he shyly laughed.
“Wow. Jose Bautista is great,” said Rivera, who turned 20 two days after the Tigers drafted him, and recently signed a below-slot contract for just under $1 million. “I’m gonna give it my best, and hopefully I can be like him or better. But, no promises.”
GET TO KNOW ...
Reynaldo Rivera, 1B/OF
Age: 20 (June 14, 1997)
Hometown: Toa Alta, Puerto Rico
College: Chipola College, Fla.
Draft: Second round, 57th overall ($1,148,400 value; signed for less than $1 million)
Fun fact: Rivera’s college, Chipola in Marianna, Fla., had 10 picks in the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft, including five in the first seven rounds. Chipola has had 24 players in the major leagues. For comparison, Michigan State has had 44.