Rivera enters his third season as the major player at catcher for the Gators at a position that they are well stocked. The quarterback of the defense, Rivera does get amped up sometimes, but known as a truly hard worker, he likes to show the others what to do rather than tell them.
“I feel like it’s similar to last year,” Rivera said about his role in his junior season. “I’m like a little vocal, but at the same time, lead by example. I do things right whenever possible, for instance get here early and help the young guys when they need anything. That’s about it, just being unselfish and being there for the young guys.”
The Gators have a lot returning, but also some key roles that have to be filed. First baseman Pete Alonso was huge for the Gators both on the bag and at the plate. He led the team in home runs in 2016, and was a power surge seemingly every time at the plate. Rivera believes the team can make it up, but isn’t certain where the help will come from at this point.
“I don’t know,” he responded when asked who will replace Alonso. “You just don’t know who is going to pan out during the season. We might have a surprise guy coming out of nowhere and take a spot.
Could that guy be Rivera? There was a point early in the season where he was leading the team in dingers.
“Who? Me? If it happens, it happens, I don’t know,” he laughed. “I’m not much of a power hitter, but yeah. If it goes.”
“I’m not trying to hit a home run, I’m just trying to make clutch hits and win games. I guess my power took over a little bit.”
If he stays healthy, Rivera should get the bulk of the catching duties this season. He had a heck of a staff to catch for last year and the weekend starters this year are going to be very good again. Led by junior Alex Faedo, sophomores Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar are expected to step up big in the sophomore campaigns.
Faedo should be the lead off guy on the weekends and Rivera expects him to take a leadership role.
“He hasn’t really been vocal in the past, but I’ll tell you what, he really does need to step up with the young bullpen and pitching staff,” Rivera said of Faedo. “I feel like he can be a huge part of helping them out as well. He has to be vocal.”
Singer has some nasty stuff on the mound and Kowar who missed a bot last season due to an illness has come on strong. Rivera likes the maturity they have shown so far.
“I feel like they’ll step up a lot, especially since they have a year under their belt,” he said. “They know what happens now and they’re kind of used to it. They’re both going to be a huge part. We need as many innings as possible from each of those two.”
The bullpen will be a work In progress. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan didn’t settle on closer Shaun Anderson until about 10 games into the season a year ago and that worked out well for the Gators. There are a bunch of new guys in the pen, but there is all kinds of talent.
“You can’t tell the future,” he said about who will make it on the mound from the pen. “There are going to be some guys that you never heard about that show up in the season and pitched different in the fall. You just don’t know. We want who’s competitive and who wants to pitch, that’s the way we’re going to go with it.”
As a catcher, Rivera likes to keep the guys on the mound on edge. He wants them ready to shoot sparks if they can and not afraid to show their emotion on the mound.
“I always talk about attitude, especially from a pitcher,” he said. “I don’t even care how hard you really throw. That doesn’t matter in the SEC. Just if you can compete, how many innings you can throw, and if you can help your team win. That’s the most important thing. The radar gun doesn’t matter.”
Ranked at or near the top of the polls again, the ultimate goal again is to get to Omaha and win the College World Series. Getting there is almost tradition for this program under O’Sullivan, but they are trying to build a team that will make it over that last hump.
Rivera says the chemistry on the team is a big deal and something they have to be better at this time around.
“I don’t know if they all learned, but I learned this… coming back from Omaha, I feel like we weren’t united as a team,” he said. “I feel like we had a couple of guys that were worried about themselves. I feel if we can stay united as one team and go on with that and not worry about what’s going to happen two months from now, take each and every day like a team, we can go pretty far. I am happy with this team. Everyone seems to be in the same boat, so that’s a good thing.”