Rays pitcher Felipe Rivero had the most impressive arm of any that I saw during my trip to Florida. The 21 year-old, Venezuelan lefty presents scouts with an interesting conundrum. He has flashes impressive stuff but comes with a few concerning warts.
Rivero’s size has been an issue for scouts since he signed in 2008. Listed at 5’10” and 150lbs, Rivero looks every bit of that and might even be a hair taller. He certainly pitches taller, staying very upright through his release and firing from a nearly true 3/4s arm slot. He pitches far enough downhill that I’m not worried about him being homer-prone because of his height and a flat fastball. Rivero has certainly put on weight, mostly in the right places, as his thighs and ass are thick and strong. He makes good use of the lower half in his delivery. Rivero’s arm works pretty well, It’s not the most gorgeous, athletic delivery I’ve ever seen but I’m not squirming when he throws, either. The control and command aren’t great (control is fringy right now, command is a little worse) but aren’t so bad that you banish him to the bullpen solely because of it (though, if the ‘pen is his ultimate destination, it will be a contributing factor). There’s essentially no physical projection remaining here.
As far as pure stuff is concerned, Rivero is packing. His fastball sat 91-94mph in his first inning of work with late tail, a true plus offering that showed even better at times. Rivero lost velo, however, as his outing wore on. He was showing mostly 87-90mph as early as the third inning and struggled to amp things up above 91mph when he wanted it later. There are several potential causes for this drop, obviously. Again, if this is something Rivero experiences habitually, it’s something that could contribute to a move to the bullpen.
Quality secondary stuff is a rarity in Hi-A ball so it was a treat to see not one, but two potential weapons in Rivero’s curveball and changeup. The curve will spin in the 76-78mph range with impressive vertical depth. The pitch is consistently average and will show plus more than a few times. Like the fastball, Rivero’s breaking ball was less and less enthralling as his start progressed. It was never bad, it was simply less dangerous. The changeup is behind Rivero’s other two pitches but it isn’t bad. A tad firm at times (mostly 83-86mph), it featured quite a bit of arm-side run and arm speed to match the heater, showing a tad better than average in a few instances while settling in as a grade 45 pitch overall. Rivero clearly has a feel for it and it’s not unreasonable to think it might be a swing and miss weapon one day.
Overall we’re looking at what I think will be three useful big league pitches one day and a control/command profile that should improve enough to play out of the rotation. The one concern I have is the stamina. As long as that isn’t an ongoing issue for Rivero I think the Rays have a stellar #4 starter here with room for a bit more if the player development staff works an unforeseen miracle or two. I expect Tampa to continue barbecuing this young man like they have with virtually all of their pitching prospects over the last half decade.
The Grades: Present/Future