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Reynaldo Rivera works to become more than masher for Tigers

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Exactly what the Tigers have in a mammoth man named Reynaldo Rivera is for some baseball Nostradamus to reveal.

They might have drafted in last June’s second round a Herculean left-handed hitter who will bash scads of home runs if and when he cracks a big-league lineup in a few years.

Tigers prospect Reynaldo Rivera has three home runs and nine doubles in 22 games so far for Single-A West Michigan.

Or, of course, they might have grabbed a contemporary version of Steven Moya, in which case Rivera can begin checking on airfare to Japan.

Either could be Rivera’s fate as he puts together his first full season of professional baseball at Single A West Michigan.

He is doing fine if you consider some raw 2018 facts: He is 20. He has four home runs and 10 doubles in 23 games for the Whitecaps, as well as a .264 batting average and an .850 OPS. Not bad for a left-handed hitter who challenges tape-measures and scales with his 6-foot-6, 250-pound superstructure.

“As with most position players in this game, their bats are usually what’s going to get them to the big leagues, and he’s no exception,” said Lance Parrish, who is Rivera’s manager at West Michigan. “When they (Tigers) drafted him, it was about his bat. And he’s got Superman strength.

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“He can hit a ball as far as anybody. It’s kind of the same thing I saw with Christin Stewart (now with Triple-A Toledo) last year. Tremendous power. Now he’s trying to become a better hitter and not just a one-dimensional power guy. If he figures things out in that area, he’s going to be pretty special, because if he learns how to hit with any consistency, he’ll hit a bunch of home runs.”

Rivera missed much of April with a lower-back issue, but healed and began ripping a stream of doubles and homers. He had cooled a bit lately — which invites thoughts of last summer at Single-A Connecticut, when Rivera started strong and finished abysmally — before he went 2-for-4 with another home run Sunday.

Reyes is from Puerto Rico and arrived at Chipola J.C., in Florida’s panhandle, as a rough, raw-tools project. The Tigers scouted him at Chipola and were finally sold last spring when they saw him pulverize pitches during a tournament at their Publix Field-Marchant Stadium venue in Lakeland, Fla.

Those scouting and recommending him included Tigers general manager Al Avila, as well as Al Kaline, who is an Avila assistant.

Questions abound, and not only about his bat, which will determine everything about Rivera’s big-league future. It’s fair to ask where he will play.

Reynaldo Rivera’s size all but guarantees he’ll play first base in the majors, and not in the outfield.

He is taking shifts at first base and working periodically in the outfield. But his size pretty much guarantees he’ll play first, given that speed will never be his ally in the outfield. Another option, of course, is as a designated hitter. But note that big-league clubs aren’t in a habit of drafting or developing DHs.

“I will say this: He uses the whole field well — he’s not just a pull hitter,” Parrish said. “He’s learning his balance points at the plate, trying to keep his weight more centered. Last night (Friday), he hit the ball well the other way, and when he first came up here, he did the same.

“A guy who can swing the bat with authority and who can hit the ball the other way has a chance.”

Bruce Fields, the Tigers roving minor-league batting coach, has had his sessions with Rivera during the past year, including a check-in earlier this month.

“A lot is evolving,” Fields said. “His swing is so much better than last year — his whole approach from his set-up on up. When I think about what he hit last year (.187, .541 OPS), and that was in 70 games (52) or whatever, and what he’s done in 20 or so games this season, in a bigger ballpark, against better pitching, I think he’s way ahead of where he was a year ago.

“I’m pleased. His stance, his approach, his leverage to swing — I think he might be a little ahead of projections. But with that being said, he still doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He’s got to learn the nuances — how to repeat his swing, the little things.

“But remember: He’s 20. He has a long way to go before he truly understands what he needs to do. For a guy just working through some things, I think he’s doing fine.”

Parrish says Rivera hasn’t been overmatched by pitchers nor by high-heat fastballs. The bat speed is there.

“That’s really not a concern for me,” Parrish said. “I’ve seen him turn around some pretty good stuff. It’s just a matter of finding his balance point at the plate and being consistent with his swing and mechanics.”

It’s a view shared by Fields.

“I’m not even going to say potential,” Fields said, “because I see more than potential. He’s definitely made some strides.

“So let it work itself out. There’s no need to rush him. It will happen when it happens. The main thing is that, in fact, it happens. Don’t rush it. Let it play out.”