Friday, March 23, 2001

Rivera out to prove worth to Reds

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SARASOTA, Fla. — When Ruben Rivera was turning heads in the New York Yankees' minor-league system, the number “5” was often used to describe him. But it was always “five-tool” player, never “No.5” outfielder.

        But that's what the Reds had in mind when they signed Rivera, who was released by the San Diego Padres, on Wednesday. Rivera is behind starters Ken Griffey Jr., Dmitri Young and Alex Ochoa, as well as Michael Tucker on the depth chart.

        While Rivera, 27, is happy to have a job, he isn't resigned to life as a backup. He thinks he can live up to the potential that once made him the Yankees' No.1 prospect. Rivera is an older version of Jackson Melian and Wily Mo Pena — Latin players the Yankees signed for big money and who were labeled can't-miss.

        The difference is Rivera is running out of chances.

        “It's all on me,” he said. “They want me to show I can play this game.”

        At one time, no one doubted that. Rivera, 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, is a rare combination of speed and power. He also has a gun of an arm. He has lived with huge expectations since the Yankees signed him as a 16-year-old.

        “I'm starting over,” he said. “It's a different team. I'll try to do what I can do.”

        Rivera's problem is he hasn't hit for a good enough average to become a consistent everyday player. Last year, he hit .208 with 137 strikeouts in 423 at-bats. His power numbers — 17 homers, 57 RBI — couldn't offset his lack of average.

        He hit .195 in 147 games in 1999 and struck out 143 times.

        But Rivera's potential at a bargain price was too much for the Reds to pass up. A roster spot opened when the Reds shipped Michael Coleman to the New York Yankees in the Drew Henson-Pena trade.

        Rivera fills an immediate need: He is an upgrade over Coleman defensively. Anything else is a bonus.

        But Rivera is playing catch-up.

        “He's been off about a week,” Reds manager Bob Boone said. “We'll do some things in the cage and see where we are.”

        Rivera had five hits in 16 at-bats (.312) when the Padres released him.

        “I was really surprised,” Rivera said. “I really don't understand. It was hard.”

        Rivera said he heard from several other clubs.

        “I knew some team would sign me,” he said. “I'm glad to come here.”


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