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

#MetsCrushMonday: Sam McWilliams

The first thing that jumps out at you when you look at Sam McWilliams is that the right-hander is a big guy, standing tall at 6’7”. The Orlando, Florida native would make his way up to Nashville, Tennessee to play high-school baseball before being drafted by the Phillies in the 8th round of the 2014 draft.

While he’s already played for three organizations during his MiLB career, the Mets signed McWilliams to a Major League deal. This may have come as a surprise to some fans, however when you hear that the right-hander had offers from half of the league, not so much of a surprise.

The first thing that jumps out at you after you have a conversation with Sam McWilliams is “Damn, this dude is smart AF!” In a small interview I had with McWilliams on The Mets Junkies Podcast, he gets into how he improved with the Rays organization due to information and analytics.

McWilliams has started in 94 games throughout his MiLB career and in 2019 in 19 starts, the tall righty pitched to a 4.46 ERA as he owned a 2.83 ERA as a reliever that same campaign. Him being able to start games comes of great value to him and the Mets but I think his bread and butter might end up being him working from the bullpen.

He’ll likely start off in Syracuse as he has three of his options remaining, but I’d imagine that we’ll be seeing a lot of McWilliams in the Majors. He very well could be one of the unsung heroes of 2021, if all work outs accordingly.

Sean Connor Flannery:

In 2019, I had the great pleasure of working with the Montgomery Biscuits the AA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays in a data collection role. During that season McWilliams was named to the Southern League All Star game.

McWilliams is nothing flashy but anytime you can poach an arm from the TBR system and player development is usually a good thing. He doesn’t have an “electric” fastball but uses his 6’7/6’8 height to get pretty good extension and it allows the FB to play up. The slider is his best pitch and he’s got a passable change and fringey curve.

I see him being like the 8th SP on the 40 behind guys like Szapucki/Oswalt/Kilome. While he doesn’t have the upside of the first and last guy on that list he’s got the command and full repertoire like Oswalt. He should be solid depth in Syracuse in ‘21.

Photo from ESPN.com

Q&A with Mets addition Colby Morris

The Mets signed RHP Colby Morris to a minor league deal a couple of days ago. Morris went from Middlebury College to Independent baseball to signing a deal with the Mets before the weekend. In 2019 while still in College, he pitched to a 3.25 ERA over 72 innings before he made the transition to Independent Baseball.

After struggling with the Trios-Riveries Aigles and Gary SouthShore RailCast, he pitched better for the Milwaukee Milkman in 2019. In 2020 he pitched just 3 innings, allowing one run for the Chicago Deep Dish.

In this interview we talked about his route to the Mets and his process of signing. Morris also gives a scouting report. Hope you all enjoy the Q&A with one of the newest members of the organization.

Q: First off all, congrats on signing with the New York Mets organization. You went thru Middlebury College, a private school for art. How was your normal daily routine in college?

A: So Middlebury is liberal arts college in Vermont and is in the NESCAC conference which is made up of high academic colleges in the Northeast. As a result, despite being an athlete, academics were a large focus in the day to day life and practice never started before 3pm. I would usually be in class for about 4 hours a day, either 9am-1pm or 12-4pm depending on the day. I would usually go to the training room for around an hour a day before practice to stretch out, would go to practice from 330-6 and then workout after that, do my schoolwork from around 8-10 and go to bed after that.

Q: During 2020, you pitched for numerous independent league teams. Takes us thru how a day/week goes in the independent league?

A: Independent baseball has games every day just like in the minor leagues, so the routine was to go to the field around 2pm before a 7:05pm night game and go through normal batting practice and pregame preparation. On off days, we would usually have to travel on long bus rides to the next stadium so there really wasn’t any free time except in the mornings when I would usually sleep in.

Q: How did your process go with signing with the Mets, after your latest work in the independent league?

A: I actually first tried out for the Mets last February during spring training in Port St. Lucie and did quite well. I think I might’ve been signed last year if it wasn’t for COVID but I remained in touch with them through the pandemic and sent them video and data from bullpens this offseason and that helped to get them to finally sign me.

Q: Can you give Mets fans a scouting reports and what they can expect from Colby Morris?

A; I am not a huge velocity pitcher, I work in the 88-92 range but can top out at higher than that but have a really high spin rate on the fastball. I have a good change up and the grip is called a Vulcan change up and I throw that a heavy percentage of the time. I also throw a curveball and slider and am a big strike thrower and can eat a lot of innings and be a workhorse.

Q: Do you have any knowledge about where your career with the Mets will begin?

A: I would imagine in Low A with Port St. Lucie due to my age but I’m just going to go into spring training with an open mind and compete for a job wherever they put me.

Q: How are you preparing for the new season?

A: I have been training near my home in San Francisco at baseball facilities and have been doing velocity work and strength work in the weight room and am now starting to get on the mound and work on shaping my pitches and honing in my command.

Q: Growing up, who was your favorite player and what was your team to root for?

A: I grew up in San Diego and was a big Padres fan and always loved Mark Loretta who was their second baseman for a long time.

Q: You are in the majors and facing Mike Trout. What would be your game plan?

A: I’d expect him to be aggressive early in the count against me and would try to get him off balance and get a weak ground ball. I’d likely throw a changeup low and in and hope he rolled over.

Q: Can you share any video of your work as a pitcher?

A: Here is a link to video from my time with the Milwaukee Milkmen:

Q: Any hobbies besides baseball you like to do. How do you spend your spare time?

A: I like to spend a lot of time in the outdoors, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, and surfing, although I’ll be doing less of that heading towards spring training to reduce risk for injury.

Q: Thank so much for answering my questions. Looking forward to follow your route thru the Mets system. Good luck this year!

A: Thank you for having me, Corne!

Photo by: Colby Morris private collection

MetsJunkies Exclusive Interview: Sam McWilliams

I got stupid lucky when I reached out to Sam McWilliams after being signed by the Mets, of course you listened to the podcast on Spotify and Apple but it’s about time we get it onto MetsJunkies.com

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate the tall right-hander on his deal with the New York Mets. One thing that he wanted to express through word is that he’s very happy to be apart of the new Mets era.

While speaking to him on the phone, I can definitely vouch that the excitement of being apart of a new regime was an exciting factor to the tall right-hander.

One message that he definitely wanted to get across before anything is that he’s very happy to be apart of the new Mets era. While this is something that has been said by players in the past, with a new regime at the helms, it holds more true now than ever.

Photo by Brian Villanueva/Image of Sport/AP

Exclusive Q&A with Anthony Recker

I had the amazing pleasure to chat it up with former Mets catcher and current SNY analyst Anthony Recker. During this Q&A we talked about his career, as well as his current standings with the Mets and his future plans.

Recker was the Mets backup catcher for part of three years and was catching some top tier young arms coming through the organization. Although Recker didn’t hit that much in the majors, he was praised for his work behind the plate. The backstop also provided some big time clutch hits, as most of his home runs were either giving the Mets the lead or tying the game.

These days, Recker is part of the BNNY crew on SNY showing why exactly why he was a main stay in the Mets organization, his knowledge about the game of baseball.

I hope you enjoy reading this Q&A with the former backstop for the Mets.

Q: First of all, thank you for doing this. You have been out of the game for a few years now. How his life after baseball treating you?

A: It’s going well. I definitely hoped, by the time I was done playing, that I’d be in a different position and able to take more liberties… but hey, I have a beautiful wife, 3 awesome boys and I get to talk baseball for a living!

Q: You now work for SNY as an analyst. How does it feel that your opinion is broadcasted to a lot of Mets fans around the world?

A: It’s really fun to be able to breakdown the things I see going on during the season or to be able to analyze off-season moves and trends. It’s just great to still be involved in the game and to try to bring a different perspective to those who watch the shows.

Q: Has the atmosphere and approach at SNY changed since Steve Cohen has purchased the Mets?

A: No, as he hasn’t purchased SNY it’s been business as usual. However the general positive feel and buzz of excitement for the team is definitely floating around the office. It has certainly led to some great content!

Q: Do you see yourself having a future as a coach in professional baseball? Future manager?

A: Absolutely a future manager. I don’t know how I’ll get my shot or what route I’ll take to get there but I would be very disappointed if that wasn’t in the cards for me down the road. I watched and studied and played the game so much that it would be a shame if I couldn’t use what I’ve learned to help a team, organization and the players reach that ultimate goal. I know I will always be learning and couldn’t think of a better way to broaden my knowledge than to be trusted to lead men down a championship path.

Q: Back to your playing days. Who were your favorite pitchers to catch during your playing time?

A: I won’t specifically give you names but the guys who could locate well. Of course the better the stuff the more fun but if you couldn’t hit your spots it made calling a game much more difficult. I loved knowing that I was swimming in a batters head while he was up at the plate. That part of the game I miss the most, that chess match.

Q: How has the analytics grown in the years you played the game. How do you feel about the big influence of analytics in the current game of baseball. How did you adjust to the analytics during your playing days? Was it difficult to get behind the idea of analytics?

A: When I came in (drafted ‘05) it wasn’t something I had ever heard of. It took years before the term ever reached my ears as it pertains to baseball. Now that it has I think anyone would be remiss if they didn’t use the numbers to their advantage. Now there is definitely a place in the game for pure baseball instinct, but now you have some solid statistical data to help guide you and help players continually improve themselves. It was easy for me to make any adjustments because I understood that some of the numbers I could access could help me get better.

Q: This year there are 42 minor league teams that were cut. What kind of effects does it have for the players and the game in your view?

A: This is a very sore subject for me. I spent more time in MiLB than I did in MLB. I had a blast coming up through the stages and definitely learned a ton in the process. Not just about baseball but about myself and about how to be a professional. I may not have had the opportunity to make it to the big leagues without those extra affiliates and I hope late bloomers like myself don’t get turned away now because of this. It’s devastating for the communities that will be impacted by these decisions. Not only that but I have to imagine there will be tens if not hundreds of thousands of kids who will no longer have the ability to learn the game through a more easily accessible means. I can’t help but think that this decision will be felt years down the road when far less youth will be as interested in the game.

Q: How did you keep yourself busy during the off-season?

A: Oh that’s simple, I worked out…. a lot! In my early days I’d go hunting and work to make ends meet. Later I found my future wife and we’d do a little traveling in between training. I definitely miss the off-season schedule!

Q: Thoughts about the McCann signing?

A: McCann signing is fantastic. It give the team the defensive catcher it’s been sorely missing the past couple years.

Q: How do you think the Mets off-season will go? Can you give a prediction who the Mets will sign or trade for?

A: Well so far they’ve signed 2 players I’ve said would be good fits in McCann and May. I don’t think Bauer will be a Met unless Springer falls through… although I will say I’ve been rooting for JBJ because the commitment would be much less and would give the team greater flexibility down the road. Not to mention I’m still not over the Astros cheating scandal. Would love to see them move a DH/one position type guy to create more lineup versatility as well as add a more versatile player in a Kike Hernandez type. Also think adding at least one more nice piece to the pen makes sense. I like the upside of Rosenthal. And of course they need at least one more starter… I’d like to see two.

I want to thank Anthony Recker for taking the time to talk with me! Hopefully some

Photo from GETTY IMAGES