MetsJunkies Q&A: Fan Favorite TJ Rivera

A lot of Mets fans remember TJ Rivera. The undrafted free agent that went thru the Mets minor league system and into heart of Mets fans with some strong play. Rivera was a great force for the Mets during a pennant race in 2016, hitting a memorable go ahead homerun against Melancon and the Nats.

The now 33 year old Rivera played 106 games with the Mets between 2016 and 2017. He hit .304/.335/.445 with 8 homeruns and 43 RBI’s. Surprisingly enough, TJ didn’t get another shot in the majors besides strong numbers in his MLB stint with the Mets.

We asked TJ about what he is up to now, memories about his time with the Mets and more in this Q&A!

Q: First of all thank you for answering some questions. How have you been and what’s going on in your baseball career? Any news you can share?

TJ: I’ve been good. Spending a lot of time with the family. I finished up playing winter ball in PR in January and now I’m just hoping for another opportunity. I’m staying in shape and ready to go when that opportunity presents itself.

Q: We from MetsJunkies are obviously curious in your time as a Met. I read that former Met Mackey Sasser got the Mets attention to sign you? Can you about how that signing process went?

TJ: I went to Wallace community college and played for Mackey. After those two years I went to Troy university and went undrafted. It was a weird time for me because I wasn’t sure what my next move would be. I got a call shortly after the draft from Tommy Jackson and signed with the Mets a couple days later. For years I didn’t know how the Mets found me but I found out later it was Mackey who helped me out.

Q: You didn’t get drafted out of college after graduating in Crimenal Justice. After you didn’t get drafted, did your sights turn to working in criminal justice?


TJ: honestly I wasn’t sure what my next steps would be. I’ve always seen myself playing baseball and truly believed it was still going to workout. I have a degree in criminal justice but my passion is with baseball so hopefully when my playing career is over I can stick around the game.

Q: As an undrafted free agent, your road to the majors was different then the top prospects. What would you say were the biggest roadblocks in your road to the show? And you feel the biggest difference was between being a top prospect and an undrafted free agent?

TJ: For me the difference was that I had to keep proving myself over and over to make people believe what I believed and that was that I’m an MLB player. I totally understand if people were a little hesitant to move me through the system as fast as some top prospects. I understand the business side of things, but to me it didn’t matter. I just kept reminding myself that I had a jersey and an opportunity just like the first round picks.

Q: You played in all levels in the minor leagues. Which minor league location you most liked to play?

TJ: Out of the NY Mets affiliates I liked savannah the best. Grayson stadium was old but unique and I really enjoyed my time there. The fans were really great at every level.

Q: During your career, which coach or player helped you the most?

TJ: this is tuff because I’ve been helped my so many coaches throughout my career. I can go back to little league where coach Jocko was always there for us as kids. Coach Droz at my high school is where I really started to learn the game. Coach Ian Millman was my summer coach who helped get my name out there. All of my minor league coaches helped me throughout the years.

Q: Growing up, which player did you look up the most to?

TJ: Derek Jeter. I grew up a yankee fan and he was the captain. He helped bring championships to NY and did it in a way that I always admired.

Q: How did you hear the news you got the call up to the show?

TJ: Wally Backman pulled me in the office in between a double header and told me
I had the second game off and that I have a flight out to NY that night.

Q: You collected your first hit against Daniel Hudson and the Diamondbacks. Do you have a special place for the baseball?

TJ: I have it in a case with some other special balls. I need to get back with a team so I can add some more memorabilia to the collection.

Q: What’s your biggest moment as a Met?

TJ: there’s a couple special moments in my short time in NY but I would probably say my first game. Just another game for most but for me there was a lot that went into being able to stand on that field for the national anthem. A lot of sacrifice from others for me to be out there and I got to share that moment with them is the best part.

Q: Do you have any clubhouse stories you can share?

TJ: not really any I can think of

Q: You were part of the successful Team Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classics (beating my Netherlands in the Semi’s). Can you tell me how that experience was, playing with some of the best players in the game.

TJ: unreal. The passion, the energy and playing for someone other then yourself is pretty special. It seemed like we brought a lot of people together and I will forever be grateful for that experience.

Q: You got to the Majors because or your hitting abilities and your versatility. How did you learn to hit and how did you become so versatile in the field?

TJ: well my parents started me young and I’ve loved hitting ever since the beginning. I wasn’t always the best or strongest but I always had the ability to be on the barrel. Maybe it was all the wiffle ball games outside my building. The versatility came a little later. I always played short and around my sophomore year in college is when I started bouncing around to second and third. When I got to Troy we had a great shortstop so I pretty much had to find other ways on the field. Then I was in High A with multiple infield prospects and nowhere for me to play so I learned first base.

Q: You were a favorite player of a lot of Mets fans. Unfortunately you haven’t been in the majors since. Do you believe a difference in team valuing hitting, is a big part of the reason you didn’t get another shot so far? Is it difficult to make adjustments which current Front Offices value more?

TJ: when I got hurt it put me in a tuff position and I’ve been trying to work my way back ever since. I do believe in the couple years I missed the game change a bit and teams value certain things differently then when I was first coming up. It’s been tuff to find consistent work but that’s part of the business. I finally felt like myself the second half of last season. I know I can help any team right now it’s just a matter of getting that opportunity.

Q: After your playing career is over. Do you intent to find another job in baseball?

TJ: I would love to stay in the game. Whether it be on the field coaching or in the offices I hope to stay around the game for a long time.

Q: Thank you so much for answering some questions! As a Mets fan you will be remembered as a great contact hitter getting big hits in a pennant race.

TJ: thank you and all the fans for your support throughout the years.

We want to thank TJ Rivera for the time to answer our questions and hope he finds a spot to play soon! We will definitely follow his road in baseball (as a player or coach).

Photo Credit: Phils Nation

Listen: The Mets Junkies Podcast (Episode 33): Is deGrom deGone?

Corné and Gem talk about Pete Alonso’s car wreck and his Top 10 ranking on MLB Now, as well as deGrom’s future status with the Mets. They also have an update on Taijuan Walker, and speculate on why Robinson Cano is not currently on the teams 40 man roster.

Should the Mets lead off with Pillar?

Now hopefully this wouldn’t be a long term alternative however it’s worth looking in to. Since the absence of Brandon Nimmo from the Mets lineup, the Mets have been in need of a lead off hitter and Pillar offers exactly that.

The best thing about Pillar leading off the game is not just his speed, but him being in centerfield gives Luis Rojas the opportunity to give the lineup stability. Now, the team hasn’t exactly been rocking the cover off of the ball lately, however it’s still early and shifting into gears with the regulars is far more important.

While Pillar has only been hitting .235/.278/.373/.650 since joining the Mets, in his last seven games he’s been hitting at a .360/.385/.640 clip. This definitely warrants the nod, however that’s just my opinion.

Luis Rojas has mainly went with Jeff McNeil to lead things off and this season he’s hitting .226/.330/.333/.663. However, he’s also been better in his last seven games as he’s been hitting .286/.394/.321 with a run batted in.

So McNeil is kinda hitting but he’s definitely been getting on base in this most recent stretch. One thing you can’t ignore is McNeil’s career numbers, he’s at .311/.379/.487/.866 line. But does this mean he should be leading off? The answer is no.

Again, with Pillar leading games off, it offers the Mets lineup stability for when Nimmo does return from his injury. Besides, Pillar has just been the better offensive player in his last seven games and McNeil might be better suited off towards the bottom of the lineup with his poor slugging percentage.

However, what do the Mets do when Nimmo returns and Pillar is hitting? We’ll cross that bridge when we need to.

Photo from The New York Mets

Analytical Management: The New Feel For The Game.

Here’s a thought:

When the Mets fired Dave Eiland back in 2019, the pitching started to get better. His methods were “Old school” and players were having trouble adapting to his methods and teachings. When Phil Regan (GOAT/Vulture) took over, the Mets pitching seemed to have gotten better. Regan followed the Analytics while also implementing his own experience, but mostly putting the analytical data first.

Chili Davis and Tom Slater had old school methods and approaches. Now that they’re gone, the Mets are going with…You guessed it, more of an analytical approach. Hense why they brought Hugh Quattlebaum and Kevin Howard. Both worked in the Minor leagues. Hugh as the Minor League Coordinator and Howard as the Farm director….In other words, heavy in analytics.

The Struggles of Francisco Lindor didn’t help their case, but neither did the struggles of the offense as a whole, including struggling with RISP with the exception of recently in the Series win in Philadelphia.

As for Luis Rojas, his job is completely safe. He’s an analytics first manager like most in the league, meaning that most/If not all of his decisions are based off of Analytics. This includes writing the lineup (Written for him), In game decisions, which pitchers to bring in at which times, you name it. No manager has full say anymore in today’s game with everyone so heavily sold on analytics, with the exception being the Phillies in Joe Girardi, who demanded he have control of writing the lineup before he signed on to be the manager for Philly.

Although I don’t agree with it at all, MLB has been trending in this direction since if I were to guess, 2016/2017. The art of a manager actually managing a game, those days are long gone now. The manager is now a scapegoat while the analytics department gets the ultimate free pass. Every team now invests heavily in analytics. It’s the way of the game nowadays sadly. You can say to hell with the stats, but that’s ultimately what’s driving the game. It’s no longer a feel for the game anymore, unless you feel the analytics.

Mets Gameday Predictions: Mets vs Cubs 4/22/21

Mets @ Cubs

7:40 PM EST

Wrigley Field Chicago, IL

Joey Lucchesi (NYM) vs Trevor Williams (CHC)

Lineups

New York Mets

  1. Luis Guillorme 3B
  2. Francisco Lindor SS
  3. Dom Smith LF
  4. Pete Alonso 1B
  5. Michael Conforto RF
  6. James McCann C
  7. Jonathan Villar 2B
  8. Kevin Pillar CF
  9. Joey Lucchesi P

Chicago Cubs

  1. Ian Happ LF
  2. Willson Contreras C
  3. Kris Bryant RF
  4. Anthony Rizzo 1B
  5. Javier Baez SS
  6. Matt Duffy 3B
  7. David Bote 2B
  8. Jake Marisnick CF
  9. Trevor Williams P

Predictions

Final Score

Mets 3 Cubs 7

Mets Player of the Game

JD Davis

Cubs Player of the Game

Javier Baez

Mets First Hit of the Game

Michael Conforto

Cubs First Hit of the Game

Willson Contreras

How I Get Graded

Every prediction I make is worth 1 point. At the end of the day, there are 12 points up for grabs in 2021.

1 point for picking winner

1 point for picking Mets score correctly

1 point for picking opponents score correctly

1 point if the score of the game is correct, but winner is wrong

1 point for Mets player of the game

1 point for opponent’s player of the game

3 points for picking who gets the first hit for both teams (Doesn’t count against me if it’s wrong. This is because it is really difficult to predict this stat, so it is like a bonus stat.)

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Garaffa’s Gameday Predictions: Opening Day 4/5/21

For every game the Mets play, I will be doing predictions right here on MetsJunkies.com!

Final Score

Mets 6 Phillies 1

Mets Player of the Game

Francisco Lindor

Phillies Player of the Game

Bryce Harper

How I Get Graded

Every prediction I make is worth 1 point. At the end of the day, there are 6 points up for grabs in 2021.

1 point for picking winner

1 point for picking Mets score correctly

1 point for picking opponents score correctly

1 point if the score of the game is correct, but winner is wrong

1 point for Mets player of the game

1 point for opponent’s player of the game

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

#ThrowbackThursday Mets Edition: John Olerud

Wait, wait, wait… so fan favorite John Olerud was actually originally drafted by the New York Mets in the 27th round of the 1986 June Amateur Draft out of Interlake High School in Bellevue, Washington. However, the first baseman opted not to sign with the Orange & Blue and instead re-entered in 1989 in which he was drafted in the third round by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Insanely enough, Olerud saw Major League action that very year as he made his debut on September 3rd and picked up a base hit in a pinch hit appearance. He ended that ’89 season with eight at-bats and picked up three hits at the young age of just twenty years old.

Olerud would officially find himself in a New York Mets uniform before the start of the 1997 season when he was traded away from the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Robert Person. The deal would eventually work out tremendously for the Mets for the three short years Olerud suited up in Orange & Blue.

John Olerud played a lot, I mean, it was almost impossible to take him out of a game due to not only his incredible ability to hit the ball to all fields, but also his impeccable defensive capabilities over at first base. In his three years as a New York Met, Olerud played in 476 games, appearing in no less than 154 games.

In his first season as a Met, 1997, Olerud hit .294/.400/.489/.889 with an OPS+ of 135 (100 is League average). The slick fielding first baseman hit 34 doubles, one triple, and 22 home runs while scoring 90 times and driving in 102 RBI’s.

He would hit 22 home runs again in ’98 along with 36 doubles and drove in 93 runs while batting .354/.447/.551/.998 with a 163 OPS+ in 160 games and 557 at-bats. The 1999 season would end up being his third and final season in Flushing, Queens. Olerud would play in all 162 games, where he accrued 581 at-bats and hit .298/.427/.463/.890 with a 129 OPS+ with 39 doubles, 19 home runs while scoring 107 times and driving in 96 RBI’s.

In his three seasons with the New York Mets, John Olerud slashed .315/.425/.501/.926 with a 142 OPS+ in 1662 at-bats. His leadership in that clubhouse was second to none while being an extremely quiet type of person, he lead by example on the diamond.

After a career that consisted of 17 seasons, Olerud finished the game with 255 home runs, 2239 base hits in 7592 at-bats while batting .295/.398/.465/.863 with a career OPS+ of 129 and a 58.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

Below is a “full-on” scouting report of John Olerud that dates back to 1989, the year the first baseman was drafted by the Blue Jays.

“JOHN OLERUD—FIRST BASE—DESIGNATED HITTER

HITTING- This player has outstanding bat control. He has an excellent eye at the plate and will work a pitcher until he gets his pitch to hit. He hits to all fields and with power to all fields. He has a short quick stroke and virtually always makes contact. He will hit better against good pitchers because they will supply more power,they offer him more of a challenge, and they will be around the plate more often. He has excellent work habits and extreme powers of concentration. He appears to approach hitting as a science and it shows. He is confident and self assured of his ability. He makes hitting look as if it is easy in comparison to most players. ‘ He will hit with more power in professional baseball than at present in my opinion. He usually hits the ball in the sweet spot of the aluminum bat which will translate to driving the ball hard with the wood bat. He hits the ball where it is pitched and has good line drive power. When professional pitchers supply a little more mustard he will hit the ball farther. He surely has enough line drive power to drive the ball out of the ballpark and when he gets his pitch and lofts the ball he also has fly ball power. The best thing is that he does not swing to hit the long ball and sprays the ball all over the field. The long ball will come naturally. His approach in batting practice is firstly to spray the ball around and hit grounders and liners to all fields. He then will begin to loft the ball and hit it for distance. He appears to know what he is doing at all times with the bat in his hands. He will hit at the major league level. He has a chance to be an absolutely outstanding major league hitter.

FIELDING- He has good size at first base. He has very good soft hands and extremely quick reaction time. He made a great reaction on a shot (one hopper) to him while playing first in Hawaii. He also made two great reaction plays while pitching on ground shots to him and in addition caught a line shot cannon hit right back at him while on the mound in Fairbanks. 95% of guys do not get that ball. He has very soft hands and seldom drops a ball. He has sure hands and is a very good overall fielder. He throws well, throws very easily, and is very much on top of the game mentally afield. He will field well at the major league level. He has a chance to be a well above average major league fielding first baseman.

PITCHING- He is impressive here. His quiet competitive spirit shows and he gets the job done. He has a below average fastball but an above average change that acts like a screwball. His breaking stuff curve and slider is adequate and his knowiedge of pitching and know how is exceptional. It is difficult to say whether or not he can pitch at the major league level. However, I would not discount this possibility and would give him every chance to exhibit his pitching prowess at the professional level. He likes to pitch and would like to give it his best shot.

HEALTH AND DURABILITY- All doctor reports and medical reports appear to indicate complete recovery. Every aspect of any medical document that I have seen is positive with the possible exception of some type personality change taking place within the first four months after the operation. You can discount that one. John, along with LHP Jim Abbott, have the best personalities I have ever seen. He is a joy to be around and will be a great example for baseball to youngsters all over the world. His health appears to be excellent. Naturally, after the tedious travel and playing schedule his team has endured, anyone would be somewhat tired. He has done more than any other player in tenms of pitching, hitting, and the normal workouts and is just as fresh as any of them. The players also spent much time enjoying themselves on wakiki beach and snorkeling etc. which is bound to take something out of their freshness for baseball. However, after all of this plus the aforementioned travel schedule to Fairbanks, Alaska, John turned in an amazing performance in beating Fairbanks 3-2 and contributing to his cause with the bat against a very good lhp. He hit as well or better in Alaska than Hawaii which speaks very well of his durability. He is back and 100% healthy in my opinion. He feels that his strength is good and he feels good but feels he just misses balls and dips his shoulder a bit and just is not perfect mechanically yet as compared to how he hit in his sophomore year of college. This is most likely due to the layoff from the game this spring and is nothing to be concerned about. As a matter of fact, he appears to be getting better every day and is more than adequately prepared to hit right now at a very high level of professional baseball.

MAKEUP- Outstanding! John Olerud is a first class kid in every respect. In addition to be an outstanding ballplayer he is a leader on a team by example and a credit to himself and the game of baseball. He will be the type player that fellow team members will look up to and he will be an inspirational leader by example. He is not beyond listening and appears to welcome constructive criticism if it will help him be a better player.

AFTER HAVING SPENT 10 DAYS WITH JOHN OLERUD AND THE PALOUSE COUGARS, I HAVE cams: TO THE FOIWING CONCLUSIONS: 1—JOHN CAN HIT PERIOD. 2—JOHNS HEALTH AND STRENGTH AND DURABILITY ARE EXCELLENT 3—4—JOHN ONLY NEEDS PRO EXPERIENCE TO BE A GREAT MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYER.