TJ Rivera vs. Jeff Keppinger – Tom Brennan
TJ Rivera – seemingly blocked in the minors, is he another Jeff Keppinger?
Jeff Keppinger was a guy who, when he was in the minors back in the early 2000’s, caught my attention. I wondered when he'd get promoted to the Mets and show what he could do. My thinking was, even though he lacked power, what was not to like about a guy who hit well over .300 and hardly ever struck out.
Unfortunately for Jeff, when he reached the high minors, the Mets had All Stars in David Wright and Jose Reyes locking up 2 spots in the infield and playing almost every day. Guys like Kaz Matsui and Miguel Cairo got a lot of second base ABs in 2004 and 2005, blocking Jeff.
Jeff did in fact make the majors with the Mets in 2004 for a short while at age 24, played in 33 games, and did fine (.284/.317/.379 in about 125 plate appearances, and only fanned 7 times)...but did not crack the majors in 2005, got traded, and had only 60 at bats with the KC Royals in 2006.
He finally cracked the door open a bit more in 2007 with Cincy, hitting a remarkable .332 in 241 at bats, while striking out a mere 12 times. Not a typo. Twelve times. He finally had arrived, spending most of his remaining career in the majors.
So how did Jeff’s minor league stats compare to TJ’s?
Jeff's minor league #s were .321, 2,292 at bats, 121 doubles, 14 triples, 26 homers, 267 RBIs, 202 walks, just 145 Ks, 27 of 45 SBs.
Numbers remarkably similar to TJ Rivera's - check out the following:
TJ 's minor league #s are: .318, 2,010 at bats, 118 doubles, 6 triples, 24 homers, 259 RBIs, 128 walks, 278 Ks, 24 of 35 steals.
Jeff struck out less and walked more, but Rivera showed slightly higher extra base hit and RBI rates, while also striking out at quite a low rate. Defensively, an apparent slight edge to Keppinger, but not significant.
As Sandy Alderson has said, minor league performance does not necessarily correlate to major league success. So we won't know how well TJ will do in the majors until he gets here. Muno, Campbell, and Satin are recent guys who showed minors promise but had little major league success. Hard to know.
TJ Rivera almost undoubtedly will get his major league opportunity somewhere, remarkable for an undrafted player. He has just hit too well to not get there.
If he cannot match Keppinger's major league performance, one would not expect he'd flop if given opportunities similar to Keppinger. I'd expect success. To what extent, up to TJ.
TJ has had the misfortune of being in this organization at the same time as Murphy, Wright, Flores, Tejada, Reynolds, Herrera, Muno, Cecchini, Mazzilli, McNeil, Rosario, Guillorme and others. That is quite a list, and daunting competition, for TJ in the Mets organization.
It does nothing to diminish his frankly outstanding production in his minor league career to date. However, Herrera and Cecchini (definitely) and Rosario and Guillorme (more than likely) would rank ahead of TJ because of their youth and anticipated room for improvement and perceived higher ceilings.
So I would envision TJ going to another organization and becoming a successful major league utility player. How long he stays there is up to him. Keppinger showed a modest increase in homers in the bigs. In my opinion, a similar modest boost in TJ's long ball totals would benefit his value in that regard.
Good luck, Mr. Rivera. You’ve exceeded expectations, and I wish you well.