Name: Armando Rivero
Position: Relief Pitcher
Age: 28 (2/1/1988)
Weight: 190 pounds
How Acquired: Signed as a free agent out of Cuba on March 5, 2013, for a reported $3.1 million bonus. Scouted by Louis Eljaua and Jose Serra.
Status: Rule 5 eligible after the 2016 season.
I have to admit, I thought Rivero would blossom into one of the Cubs better bullpen arms in 2015 and had an outside shot at the closer role. He didn’t come close. Instead the right-handed reliever spent the season in Iowa, struggling with his command as well as a reported drop in velocity.
A teammate of Cubs prospect Gerardo Concepcion for Industrials in Cuba’s Series Nacional, Rivero spent four seasons pitching out the bullpen in Cuba before defecting. He threw 47 innings his final season (2010) with 38 K and a 3.08 ERA, and totaled 148 innings in the Cuban league.
After signing for a reported $3.1 million deal, Rivero headed to Mesa to start a throwing program and in late June of 2013 the Cubs turned the Cuban fireballer loose in the Midwest League. Pitching for the first time in nearly two years, Rivero struggled but over his final five games in the MWL, which included his first pro save, Rivero fanned 18 in 9.2 innings and didn’t allow a run. He earned a promotion to High A and after a week in Daytona, found himself in AA, appearing in six games for the Smokies. Rivero added 11 more innings to his resume in the Arizona Fall League, going 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA. Rivero had a streak of allowing a run in five straight games but finished the AFL with four scoreless innings, including an outing where his fastball averaged 96.
Rivero continued to climb the ladder in 2014, starting the year in Tennessee, earning Southern League All-Star honors while averaging 14 K/9 with a .153 BAA and a 0.98 WHIP. After a promotion to AAA in mid-June, Rivero threw 30.1 AAA innings and logged 46 more strikeouts with 12 walks. He did surrender four homers and finished with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. Rivero ended with 100 K in 65 IP and was named a Cubs Organizational All-Star by MiLB.com.
With an invite to spring training I was anxious to see what he could do but Rivero only appeared in one game and headed to Iowa to start the season. A slight drop in velocity and inability to command the strike zone plagued Rivero last year. His walk rate rose from 3.9 BB/9 to 5.1 and his K rate dropped from 13.8 K/9 to 8.4. He stayed healthy in Iowa, appearing in 48 games and logging 57 innings in his third pro season. The most encouraging part of the ’15 season was Rivero’s performance for Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he put up numbers in tune with his ’14 season. In 14 games, the Cuban went 2-2 with a 3.14 ERA in 14.1 innings, recording one save. He fanned 18 and only issued two walks.
Not on the 40-man roster, Rivero will have to impress in Mesa to leave on the 25-man squad but he does posses the stuff to make the jump. A tailing fastball in the mid-90s and a hard breaking wipe-out slider provide Rivero the arsenal to get big league hitters out. Even with the control problems in AAA last year, the PCL only hit .216 and left-handers just .191. Rule 5 eligible at the end of the season and already 28, its a big year for the right-hander, and the pressure is on to perform with the Cubs or likely move on. He’s a non-roster invitee to spring training for the third straight year.