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Emmanuel Rivera promoted, Kelvin Gutierrez designated for assignment

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Third base tree hasn’t sprouted many prospects

Emmanuel Rivera home run - Minda Haas Kuhlmann photo | 2021

The Royals announced the promotion of Emmanuel Rivera to the big league club while designating Kelvin Gutierrez for assignment. The announcement was rumored via multiple sources since yesterday.

He was drafted in the 19th round of the 2015 draft from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico signing as a shortstop with a projection towards the corners. It’s been a slow development for Rivera after being drafted, taking one step at each level. Along the way, there have been successes with a South Atlantic League batting championship in 2017 at Low-A Lexington.

The following season in Wilmington, Rivera once again put together a decent batting average (.280) with an average OBP and plenty of doubles. Still, not many balls were getting over the wall. Rivera’s groundball rate has been greater than 50% at the lower levels but dropped slightly at each step along the way. His ISO numbers cratered at Double-A, below .100, which led to a down season. Despite that, the Puerto Rican national club put Rivera in the middle of their lineup on their U-23 squad coached by Yadier Molina. That work there along with a strong winter ball season this year with his Mayaguez home club highlighted a third baseman that was starting to tap into his size and strength.

At 6’2 and 225 lbs, he looks like a third baseman who should hit with power. That has been the case in winter ball, with three home runs and six doubles in 17 games. That power continued to flex its muscle in Omaha this season with 14 home runs, 11 doubles, and a triple in 44 games. The groundball rate is at a career-low at under 45%, while the line-drive rate is at a career-high 25% and already hitting a career-high 14 home runs. One shouldn’t expect 30-40 home runs due to his middle-of-the-field approach, but he makes contact at good rates in his career and has shown a propensity to hit for average. Like many Royals development players, he doesn’t walk much, meaning if he can carry a .280 or higher batting average, he can provide some value offensively but lower craters his offensive value due to the lack of on-base skills.

As a third baseman, Rivera’s mobility and range are below average though he comes in on the ball okay, has decent hands, and an above average. In terms of value, if the Royals can get a Maikel Franco 2020 level offensive performance with a similar defensive profile, then they will be doing well in his pre-arb seasons. The power will have to prove legit while the walk rate must increase to provide more value than that. If neither happens, his defensive limitations and lacking secondary skills leave him as a 4-A talent. With Hunter Dozier and Kelvin Gutierrez’s defense and offensive struggles checking out if Rivera can provide Franco-level value doesn’t seem like a terrible idea. This is pretty similar to the reason they called up Gutierrez back up but his groundball issues never subsided and his defense took a turn for the worse as the game appeared too fast for him. It’s a next up mentality for the Royals and Rivera, get a quick peak and if he can win the job this season great. If he can’t then explore free agent and Bobby Witt options later.