He was signed as an undrafted free agent from the Dominican Republic and for several seasons, Roberto Rivera didn't do a whole lot to distinguish himself.
A new work ethic has changed all that, and Rivera has developed into one of the most pleasant surprises in the Orioles' farm system in 1999.
"He has made himself a prospect," said Frederick Keys manager Andy Etchebarren. "He's got tools as good as anybody we've got, but he didn't always apply them. But the attitude changed, and he took it upon himself to work hard."
Rivera has always flashed promise with his combination of running ability, outfield play and throwing arm. Plus, for the last three years, he has batted from both sides of the plate, further enhancing his value.
"When I signed, I was just a right-handed hitter," said Rivera, signed by Carlos Bernhardt out of La Romana, D.R. "I didn't have that good a year in 1996, so after that I took up switch hitting in the Instructional League. The next year, I was good at the rookie level."
In 1997, Rivera topped Bluefield with a .318 batting average on a team that included Jerry Hairston. He also had 20 doubles in 50 games.
This season, he was assured by Etchebarren that he was going to play, increasing his confidence.
"He told me that if I play hard, I was going to play almost every day," said Rivera, who has enjoyed a solid offensive season that has not included a lot of ups and downs. "That has helped me a lot because that was my goal to play every game."
"I told him I didn't care if he was hitting .150, he'd be in there," said Etchebarren. "And he earned the right to be in the lineup by working hard. He knew this way he'd have a chance to get a couple hits the next day if things weren't going well."
Rivera is in his sixth year in the organization; hence, he will be eligible for minor-league free agency after this season. It'll be interesting to see if the Orioles protect him from the Rule V draft.
He played right field at Delmarva in 1998 and has switched to left this season and "has really shown his tools for the first time. Scouts have seen him play hard," said Etchebarren, "so that makes him an interesting guy to them. He has worked harder than any outfielder we've got."
The pitching continues to shine at Rochester, which is gradually reaching respectability after going 16-42 in May and June. The Red Wings are 23-11 since the Orioles exhibition, largely because of excellent work by starters Rafael Pina, Doug Linton and Calvin Maduro. Pina is 3-1 since joining the rotation and is 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in his last three. Linton has gone 5-0, 2.03 since July 1 with 47 strikeouts and only six walks in 48 2/3 innings. Maduro is second in the International League with 10 wins and 116 strikeouts. With Eugene Kingsale nursing a strained muscle, P. J. Forbes played center field for the first time in his career. Forbes is now at third base with Ryan Minor in Baltimore. Newcomer B. J. Ryan, acquired in the Juan Guzman deal, had a 6.75 ERA in his first three relief outings. Hairston had a 13-game hitting streak and has hit in 27 of his last 29 Red Wings starts. Todd Dunn has been bothered by eye irritation when looking into the sun and may undergo laser surgery. Julio Vinas is batting .328 on the road with twice as many home runs and RBIs than at home.
The Baysox's Matt Riley took over the Eastern League ERA lead at 2.60 when his teammates hammered Harrisburg's Tony Armas Jr. in their pitching matchup. The rest of the season Riley will be nip and tuck to pitch enough innings to qualify. The victory over Armas gave the Baysox their first series win on the road since May 2. Johnny Isom went to Rochester and Chad Paronto and Mike Lopez-Cao to Frederick to make room for Julio Moreno, back from a rehabilitation stint, and Cesar Devarez and Carlos Medina, who played for the Dominican Republic in the Pan Am Games. Shortstop Augie Ojeda became the fifth member of the Baysox's 50-plus RBI club. He also is only two short of the club record for sacrifices. Rick Short homered in all three games at Harrisburg and has hit in 16 of 18 games at a .412 clip with seven homers and 19 RBIs. Josh Towers gave Bowie its first 10-game winner since Steve Montgomery in 1997 by winning four in a row. He is shooting for team records in victories (13) and innings (177 1/3). The Baysox are falling out of the race for first place in the Southern Division, but are the leader for the second playoff spot.