By: Marcus Young
Like many young Puerto Rican kids, Yadiel Rivera grew up loving the game of baseball. To say he enjoys being out on the diamond would be an understatement.
While the grind of a long season can start to get to many players late in the year, the 23-year-old Rivera keeps looking for any and every opportunity to take to the field to improve his game as he looks to grab a big league roster spot with the Brewers.
After wrapping up a busy spring training slate a year ago that saw him get plenty of big league action, due in no small part to his defensive versatility, Rivera was sent to Double-A Biloxi to open the 2015 campaign. He appeared in 32 games for the Shuckers and got off to a hot start, hitting .343 in the month of April and earning a promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs in mid-May.
After hitting safely in 14 of his first 15 games at the Triple-A level, Rivera struggled a bit during the middle of the season and wound up hitting just .238 in 81 Pacific Coast League games.
With the Sky Sox out of playoff contention, Rivera was sent back down to Biloxi in mid-August to help the Shuckers down the stretch and during their playoff run. With Rivera inserted back into their lineup, Biloxi went all the way to the Southern League finals, coming within a game of winning the league championship as their season stretched into late September.
Following the end of the Shuckers incredible 2015 run, Rivera was on the move again, this time receiving a promotion to the big leagues, where he joined the Brewers as a September call-up.
Playing time was sparse for Rivera with Milwaukee as he saw action in just seven games, playing second base shortstop and third base. He hit just .071 in limited at bats, collecting only one hit in fifteen plate appearances, but with his big league debut under his belt, he was ready for more.
With 140 games already in for the season, the Brewers sent Rivera to the Arizona Fall League following the end of their season. It was there that some folks really started to take note as he hit .336 with a pair of home runs in 33 games for the Surprise Saguaros against some of the top prospects in baseball as Surprise finished in second place, again coming up a game shy of a title.
Equally as impressive as his performance on the field in Arizona was Rivera’s work off the field and he was honored with the Arizona Fall League’s Stenson Award, given each year to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership.
Now over 170 games into his season, Rivera still was looking for more at bats and as soon as the Arizona Fall League ended, he made his way back to his native Puerto Rico to play winter ball for Cangrejeros de Santurce.
There Rivera helped lead his team to the Puerto Rican Winter League Championship, extending his season just a little bit more with a trip to the Caribbean World Series, before Puerto Rico was eliminated in early February, thus ending Rivera’s season just in time to head back to Maryvale once again for spring training.
For hose who have followed Rivera’s career, it should come as no surprise that he’d take full advantage of every opportunity given to him to help improve his game. Originally drafted by Milwaukee out of high school in the ninth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Rivera signed with the Brewers and went right to work, playing in 49 games for their AZL affiliate that same season.
Slated to open 2011 in the Pioneer League with Helena, Rivera jumped at the opportunity to join Low-A Wisconsin when they were in need of a shortstop and though this his time was limited there due to offensive struggles against far more advanced pitchers, he opened a lot of eyes within the Brewers organization with his defensive prowess due to his slick fielding, excellent range and rocket arm.
Rivera spent all of 2012 back at Wisconsin, hitting .247 and showing increased power by belting 12 home runs as helped lead the Timber Rattlers to a Midwest League Championship. He moved up to High-A Brevard County a year later and returned there for the start of the 2014 season before earning a promotion to Double-A Huntsville where he hit .262 in 58 Southern League games with the Stars, setting him on his way to his whirlwind 2015 campaign.
One of the best defenders in Milwaukee’s farm system, Rivera has logged experience at a variety of infield positions over the past several seasons and that versatility has been evident this spring as he makes a bid for a big league roster spot.
While most of his playing time in the minor leagues has come at shortstop and second base, Rivera worked extensively at third base in the Arizona Fall League and could slot into any spot on the infield as needed for Milwaukee.
Currently hitting .345 with a pair of home runs through 15 Cactus League contests, all of that hard work that Rivera has put in throughout his career may soon pay off as he inches his way closer to reaching his goal of sticking in the big leagues. His impressive spring showing has put him in a good position to grab at least a bench role with Milwaukee and as a player who can back up at a variety of positions and isn’t afraid to keep putting in the work, he could see plenty of action at Miller Park as the Brewers begin their re-building process over the next several seasons.