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Thoughts on Luis Rivas

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Not as good as he should be

Thoughts on Luis Rivas

Luis Rivas is one of the most frustrating players in Twins history. Handed a regular job in 2001 at the age of 21, he never developed beyond where he was at the beginning of his major league career, even regressing in some ways. The Twins finally pulled the plug this year, and he split '05 between the major league team and Triple-A. He was released this month, and it is unclear where he will end up in '06.

First, some history.

Rivas was signed as a free agent out of Venezuela in 1995. He made his pro debut in 1996, hitting .259 in the rookie level Gulf Coast League. But he was only 16 years old. The next year, at age 17, he hit .239/.300/.332 in the Midwest League, with 28 steals. But he was extremely young to be playing full-season ball, and was already impressing scouts with his defensive skills.

In 1998, rumors started cropping up about his age. Usually, age-related-rumors say that a player is older than listed, but in Rivas case the rumors were that he was younger than listed, which made his performance all the more impressive.

Rivas played in the Florida State League in '98 at age 18, hitting .281 with a .374 SLG. Again, his raw numbers weren't that hot, but given his age and physical tools, scouts were impressed. He played Double-A in '99 and '00, not racking up terrific numbers, but showing flashy glovework. He entered 2001 as the Twins regular second baseman, hitting .266/.319/.362 at age 21.

Given a normal age curve, Rivas could have, perhaps should have, developed into at least a solid regular and probably a star. Players who hold their own in the major leagues at age 21 usually turn into good (or great) players. But he never improved. He'd spike a touch of power on occasion, but his batting average remained mired in the .250s, and his OBP never got higher than .319. He gained weight and his defense began to deteriorate. The Twins hinted, then eventually stated outright, that Rivas' work ethic wasn't what it should be. He lost his job this year, and is now out of the organization altogether.

So, what happened here?

From a sabermetric perspective, Rivas' minor league performance was never that good, and the only thing he had really going for him was age-relative-to-league. ARTL is a critical factor, but it's not everything. Rivas just never grew as a player; his major league numbers are very similar to his minor league numbers, actually a little better in some ways. But he's basically the same player at age 25 that he was at age 21, showing no skill growth at all. That's rather rare, actually, for a young player like this to completely stagnate in most phases of the game.

As for why this occurred, well, the complaints about his work ethic kept cropping up, especially the last two years. That probably has something to do with it. Organizational context may make a difference too. The Twins do a lot of things right, but they have never emphasized plate discipline, and that's been one of Rivas' key weaknesses. Perhaps another organization could have gotten more out of him. Perhaps not.

The Twins were certainly very patient with him. My guess is that his window of opportunity has closed, and that he'll spend the next ten years bouncing between Triple-A jobs and major league benches. He's the Venezuelan Warren Morris.