Blake Rivera, RHP
DOB: January 9, 1998
BATS: R / THROWS: R
ACQUIRED: Drafted 4th Round (#106), 2018
LAST LEVEL: Low-A
GiantFutures Ranks: #1 Relief Pitcher
Performance: In his first full season, Rivera was still working as a near full-time starter and was looking pretty good in the role. In 16 appearances with Augusta, Rivera had a 3.95 ERA, and posting 87 strikeouts against 39 walks in 73.0 innings. That led to good rates, including a 10.7 SO/9 and a 4.8 BB/9 rate.
Rivera’s biggest trouble was a stress fracture in his back, which caused him to miss nearly two months, and he struggled in the start before his stint on the L, spiking his ERA somewhat. That led to a 6.11 ERA after the all-star break across four appearances.
Rivera pitched in the instructional league in 2020, and impressed with a little more speed on his fastball, topping out at 97 mph, and work on his changeup, his attempt at a third pitch.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Rivera’s strength is a plus curveball, a hammer 12-6 curve with a premium spin-rate. He uses that pitch effectively to get his strikeouts, and it’s the best curveball in the system. He pairs it with a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and tops out at 97 in shorter stints. It’s a strong 1-2 punch for any pitcher.
The most notable thing missing from Rivera’s repertoire is a third pitch, which traditionally is needed for a starter. He’s working on a changeup, but as of 2019 it was still subpar. If the Giants want to keep him as a starter, he’ll probably need that third pitch. What’s good is that, at least so far, he hasn’t shown a traditional RHB/LHB split, actually a bit performing better against left-handers in 2019.
The question about Rivera remains whether he can stay a starter or will switch to relief. One thing that will be worth watching is his health, especially his back. The stress fracture may not be chronic, but the Giants might be interested in letting him stick to relief, where he can hit a little harder with the fastball.
2021 Outlook: After missing 2020, it’s still unclear what Rivera’s role will be when play resumes, whether he’ll be starting or relieving. Either way, Rivera will likely be doing it at High-A Eugene, although he’ll have a jetpack on him if he dominates the level, especially if it’s as a reliever. The Giants don’t have many late-inning relief prospects in the system, so they could be a bit aggressive with him to see if he can handle it.
Future Profile: Even though he’s still starting, his more likely destination with his pitches will be the bullpen, where he could be dominant. There is still a possibility the Giants want to see what he can do in the rotation, but success there would likely need leaps and bounds of improvement of the changeup. The Giants need pitching prospects everywhere, but his impact would likely be better felt in the bullpen.