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Perrotto: Alfonso Rivas Enjoying Reverse Homecoming of Sorts

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Pittsburgh Pirates-Alfonso Rivas

PITTSBURGH — Alfonso Rivas was seemingly living out his dream.

A native of Chula Vista, Calif., a city on the Mexican border, Rivas was playing for his hometown San Diego Padres. Rivas had been drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2018 and made his major-league debut with the Chicago Cubs three years later before signing with the Padres last winter as a free agent.

“Obviously, being in San Diego was great, being back home, seeing family and stuff like that,” Rivas said.

So, it would stand to reason that Rivas should have been disappointed on Aug. 1 when he was one of three players traded from the Padres to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Rich Hill and Ji-Man Choi.

Yet, to the contrary, Rivas was pleased with the news. It did not bother him that he had to pack and move across the country.

“When I got the news, I was pretty excited,” Rivas said. “I knew it was a young team, a really good ballclub and that there might be some opportunity for me in Pittsburgh. So, yeah. I was excited.”

The 25-year-old Rivas has indeed been given an opportunity by the Pirates. The left-handed hitter is the long side of a platoon first base, playing against right-handed pitchers while Connor Joe starts against lefties.

Rivas has also made the most of his chance as he is hitting .292/.357/.667 with one double, one triple and two home runs in his first eight games, six of which he has started.

“He’s done a really nice job,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “The thing that’s impressed me the most is he’s really aggressive with his swings and I like that, especially in positive counts. When he has the ability to try to get the barrel of the bat out front, he does it.

And defensively, it’s one of those things, like you hear a guy’s a good defender and that’s something you almost want to see with your own eyes because everybody has a different gauge of what a good defender is. What has really impressed me is his actions around the bag. Heard coming in that it was good, but seeing it live, it’s even better than I thought it was gonna be.”

The most encouraging part of Rivas’ performance during the early stages of his Pirates’ career has been his power.

Prior to the trade, Rivas had hit just four home runs in 353 plate appearances in the major leagues. He also went deep just 24 times in 1,403 trips to the plate in five minor-league seasons.

The lack of pop was the primary reason Rivera was unable to succeed Anthony Rizzo as the Cubs’ starting first baseman after the veteran was traded to the New York Yankees during the 2021 season.

Rivas, though, did shine in 58 games with the Padres’ Triple-A El Paso farm club this year, hitting .332/.462/.582 with nine home runs. That came after he batted just .235/.322/.307 with three homers in 101 games with the Cubs in 2022

“It’s been a good year so far, just in terms of getting back to who I am as a player,” Rivas said. “I made some adjustments on the hitting side, and I’ve been able to translate that to be a little more consistent. And it’s been good so far.”

As Shelton mentioned, Rivas came to the Pirates with a sterling defensive reputation. He has five defensive runs saved in 113 career games at first base in the big leagues.

“I’ve kind of dedicated some time over there,” Rivas said about his defense. “I’ve found a routine that I do every single day that gets me ready for the game and I would say finding that consistency of the work I need to do to prepare myself for the game is what’s kind of got me locked in over there.”

The Pirates don’t have a clear-cut first baseman of the future in their farm system. At 25, Rivas is young enough to potentially fill that bill.

“You always want to impress and show what you can do,” Rivas said.

Rivas is getting that opportunity. He has the last seven weeks of the season to make the most of it.

 

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