WASHINGTON -- T.J. Rivera went undrafted out of Troy University in Alabama, but the Bronx native is forcing New York Mets officials to take notice.
Rivera, 26, hit a combined .349 with five homers and 75 RBIs in 453 at-bats between Class-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton last season.
After helping the B-Mets earn their first Eastern League title in 20 years, he will repeat with the club to begin this season, playing all four infield positions to groom him for a potential utility role at the major league level. He may even see limited outfield work, Mets vice president Paul DePodesta said.
"I think he has an interesting skill set and what a National League club might need," DePodesta said.
Rivera, a product of Lehman High School in the Bronx, played for ex-Met Mackey Sasser in junior college in Alabama. He played winter ball in Puerto Rico and his fiancee lives in Alabama, so his time back in New York was limited this winter.
As for the uphill battle to reach the majors after going undrafted, Rivera said: "I figured it was going to be a little harder for me to move up the rankings. I knew that coming in, so I was expecting I had to prove myself over and over. Hopefully I've been able to do so after this last year. And I'm hoping to do the same thing this year and go out there and prove myself again."
Said DePodesta: "He's on equal footing. He's done nothing but perform since Day 1. He has a real knack for hitting the ball on the barrel. He's shown that from the beginning."
ORGANIZATION LEADERS (2014 final stats)
Average: T.J. Rivera, Binghamton, .349; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, .343; Dilson Herrera, Binghamton, .323; Jean Rodriguez, Brooklyn, .311; Kevin Plawecki, Vegas, .309; John Mora, Brooklyn, .307; Enmanuel Zabala, GCL Mets, .301; L.J. Mazzilli, Vegas, .301; Jhoan Urena, Brooklyn, .300; Wuilmer Becerra, Kingsport, .300.
Homers: Brian Burgamy, Binghamton, 23; Andrew Brown, Vegas, 21; Dustin Lawley, Binghamton, 20; Allan Dykstra, Vegas, 16; Travis Taijeron, Binghamton, 15.
RBIs: L.J. Mazzilli, Vegas, 79; Brian Burgamy, Binghamton, 76; T.J. Rivera, Binghamton, 75; Allan Dykstra, Vegas, 74; Dilson Herrera, Binghamton, 71.
Steals: Champ Stuart, Savannah, 29; Patrick Biondi, Savannah, 24; Dilson Herrera, Binghamton, 23; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, 20; Raphael Ramirez, GCL Mets, 18.
ERA: Marcos Molina, Brooklyn, 1.77; Steven Matz, Binghamton, 2.24; Corey Oswalt, Brooklyn, 2.26; Robert Gsellman, Savannah, 2.55; John Gant, Savannah, 2.56; Matt Bowman, Vegas, 3.21; Kevin McGowan, St. Lucie, 3.59; Casey Meisner, Brooklyn, 3.75; Tyler Pill, Binghamton, 3.97; Gabriel Ynoa, Binghamton, 4.07.
Wins: Greg Peavey, Binghamton, 12; Gabriel Ynoa, Binghamton, 11; Logan Verrett, Vegas, 11; John Gant, Savannah, 11.
Saves: Chasen Bradford, Vegas, 16; Akeel Morris, Savannah, 16; Cody Satterwhite, Binghamton, 15; Shane Bay, Brooklyn, 15; Robby Coles, St. Lucie, 13.
Strikeouts: Noah Syndergaard, Vegas, 145; Steven Matz, Binghamton, 131; Matt Bowman, Vegas, 124; Tyler Pill, Binghamton, 124; Greg Peavey, Binghamton, 123.
The Mets signed left-hander Josh Smoker to a minor league contract last week. Smoker, a 2007 first-round pick (31st overall) by the Washington Nationals out of high school in Georgia, had arm troubles that had dropped his fastball velocity to the mid-80s mph. That led to his release after reaching high-A with Washington in 2012. Smoker, 26, pitched in relief for Rockford in the independent Frontier League last season. A bird-dog scout saw him in Atlanta a few weeks ago and recommended him. He threw for team officials last week in Port St. Lucie and sat at 94-95 mph, with a feel for three pitches. He is in extended spring training, and likely will be used in relief when he is assigned to a team.
Florida State product Jayce Boyd is moving to the outfield. The Mets like Boyd as a first baseman but are trying to diversify his positions because he is blocked at the major league level by Lucas Duda. Boyd, 24, hit .293 with eight homers and 59 RBIs in 413 at-bats with the B-Mets in 2014. The previous year he underwent shoulder surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome. He is now throwing without pain. He also is showing improvement with the different throwing motion from the outfield.
Triple-A Las Vegas has infield congestion to open the season with Matt Reynolds, Dilson Herrera, Danny Muno, Wilfredo Tovar, Eric Campbell, Alex Castellanos and Brandon Allen. Herrera will be used primarily at second base and Reynolds primarily at shortstop. Beyond that, there should be plenty of shuffling. Muno's primary position should be third base, but he'll get time at shortstop and second base too, so the Mets can prep him for a utility role in the majors. Tovar should bounce around, too, and likely will be more of a backup. Campbell should see action at first base, third base and in left field. Las Vegas does have a DH available in many games.
Scott Rice and Jack Leathersich will open the season as left-handed relievers with Las Vegas. A third southpaw, Duane Below, stayed behind in extended spring training. The Mets are stretching out Below so he can be a long reliever/spot starter, after using him for single innings or less during spring training. Below has made 43 major league appearances with the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins.
Vegas' starting pitchers to open the season are Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Matt Bowman, Tyler Pill and Darin Gorski.
Right-hander Domingo Tapia, 23, officially is a reliever for Binghamton after compiling a 3.96 ERA in 21 starts for St. Lucie last season. The Mets always profiled Tapia as a reliever but used him as a starter in Class A to give him mound time to develop his pitches.
Second baseman L.J. Mazzilli opens the season serving a 50-game suspension for a second violation involving a drug of abuse. He will continue to work out in extended spring training.
Mets officials are crowing about the accumulation of talent beginning the season with St. Lucie. The collection includes first-round picks Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith, 19-year-old shortstop phenom Amed Rosario and outfielders Victor Cruzado and Champ Stuart. DePodesta conceded that assigning Conforto to the Florida State League team was conservative. He suggested it was the same logic used in assigning fellow outfielder Brandon Nimmo to Double-A instead of Triple-A to begin the season. There's no sense aggressively pushing a prospect and having him potentially endure a difficult start, DePodesta said. A small extra motivation: Conforto dodges the cold weather in Binghamton in April, reducing injury risk.
The only releases at the end of camp were right-handers Tyler Vanderheiden (19th round, 2012) and Ryan Fraser (16th round, 2010).
Right-hander Michael Fulmer, the 44th overall pick in the 2011 draft, out of high school in Oklahoma, is still building up innings in Florida and is a couple of weeks behind other pitchers. He ultimately will join Binghamton.