Rivera's Stylish in the Field

Juan Rivera is an infielder from the Dominican Republic, a description that fits a rather large group in organized ball. So, when you ask him what player he models himself after, you rather expect him to choose someone else from that list, someone he admires from back home like, say, Rafael Furcal, or, maybe, one of the newer guys like Robinson Cano. He answers unhesitatingly, "Derek Jeter."

Jeter's from Michigan so that part of the answer is surprising although you can't quarrel with his taste in shortstops. For that's the position that Rivera plays, one where he demonstrates a precocity that belies his years. You see, he's in his second year of professional ball although he just became 18 this past March.

He'll catch you're eye playing short for he's fluid, covering ground with ease, has a strong arm and sure hands. It's what the Dodgers saw when they handed him $400, 000 to sign when he was 16, another likely kid from the rather fabled city of San Pedro deMacoris, which has a population of around 50,000, of which it only seems that more than half are pro ball players.

Rivera certainly is one of the more promising of the younger set from there with his glove. It's his work with a bat that has been in question. He came into the game weighing only about 145 pounds, not exactly the size to drive for distance. He debuted in 2004 in the Gulf Coast League where he hit .243 with only six doubles representing his extra-base accomplishments.

What's more, that lack of strength took its toll for he wore down noticeably as the season wore on. He spent the winter back home, building up and came into spring training with more size and more snap to his stroke. While, he didn't enjoy a huge season at Ogden this summer, he did improve to .251 in a much tougher environment and actually drove one ball out of the park.

He understands, though, that he's got some distance to travel before he can emulate Jeter at the plate. "I need to get bigger and stronger," he admits (through an interpreter for his English is limited.) He's out to achieve this in the usual fashion by lifting weights.

What he also has to acquire is the same item all young players need-experience and that he'll gain at the same rate, a day at a time, obviously. In the meantime, he says he's put on 10 more pounds and now weighs 175.

Well, maybe that got lost in translation because he appears to weigh about 165. The main thing is he's growing up. When he arrived in this country, shortly after signing, he looked to be about 12 years old,. Now, he can pass for 16. So, he's getting there.

In the meantime, though, that slick glove work continues to dazzle. Pioneer League managers named him one of the league's top prospects almost strictly on the basis of his fielding.

And, hey, Jeter made 52 errors in his first full season. In that respect , he's well ahead of his idol. He'll probably never be able to hit home runs like Derek but if he can ratchet that batting average up about 25 points as he goes along, he'll become a real asset. One that other young Dominicans may someday choose as their big leaguer to be like.