Felipe Rivero is yet another hard throwing lefty in the Rays system. He was originally signed as an international free agent on July 30, 2008 out of Venezuela as a 17 year old. The following year, he made his debut, playing for the Vecono Rays in the Venezuelan Summer League. Appearing in 16 games as a reliever that year, he had a 6-4 record, with 25 strikeouts in 33.2 innings and a 3.74 ERA. As solid as his strikeout rate was, he did appear a bit overmatched at times, as he allowed 50 baserunners on 38 hits and 12 walks that year. He was definitely hurt by his defense, as he gave up 10 unearned runs in those 33.2 innings.
In 2010, he once again pitched for Vecono, but had a much better season. Rivero appeared in 14 games, starting 9. In his 51.2 innings pitched, he only allowed 46 hits while striking out 44 batters. His ERA decreased from 3.74 to 2.09. However, his biggest improvement was with his control, as he only walked 10 batters. His walk rated dropped from 3.2 per 9 innings in 2009 to 1.7 per 9, while the strikeout rate increased from 6.7 per 9 to 7.7. His strikeout to walk ratio also skyrocketed, improving from 2.08 to 4.4.
2011 found Rivero stateside, pitching for the Princeton Rays in the Appalachian League. While his overall statistics were not impressive, they are skewed by a terrible end to the season. In total, Rivero pitched in 14 games, with 12 starts, earning a 5-3 record. In his 60.1 innings pitched, he allowed 64 hits, but only 13 walks. He struck out 57 batters, giving him a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.38. His ERA of 4.62 was high, but it also skyrocketed during a terrible August and September. In the 24.2 inning he pitched, he was 0-2 with a 7.66 ERA. His strikeout and walk rates remained solid, but he was fairly hittable, giving up 34 hits as opponents hit .318 against him.
Rivero was impressive enough to earn a promotion to the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League to start 2012. Thus far, he has been lights out. In his 3 starts, he is 2-1, with his only loss coming due to giving up 1 unearned run on 3 hits in 6 innings. Over the 17 innings he has pitched thus far, he has only walked 1 batter and given up 12 hits, while striking out 16.
One of the biggest concerns with Rivero going forward is his durability. While he stands at 6 feet tall, he only weighs 151 pounds. He did increase his strength last year, but needs to continue to do so while increasing his size.
His lack of size may be his biggest obstacle presently. He already has a mid-90’s fastball, although his secondary pitches lag further behind in their development. His command is already phenomenal, as he has walked under 2 batters an inning in his past two seasons.
Presently, Rivero is projected by many scouts as a solid middle of the rotation starter. However, this season may go a long way towards determining his future path. If he tires at the end of the season again, Rivero would be a natural fit in the bullpen, as either a future set up man or a possible closer. The biggest keys for him going forward will be the development of his other pitches and his durability.
While Rivero is a long way from making an impact on the major league level, he is certainly a prospect to watch. He could end up as a Rick Aguilera type of pitcher, a pitcher capable of bouncing from the rotation to the closer’s role without problem.