MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs bet $3.1 million on Armando Rivero as part of their international investment strategy.
Rivero drew a crowd on Saturday at Cubs Park, with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer among those watching the Cuban right-hander throw live batting practice. Pitching coach Chris Bosio watched from behind the mound. Manager Rick Renteria and bench coach Brandon Hyde stood near the batting cage.
Agent Scott Shapiro – whose firm also represents $30 million Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler – held up his iPad to capture the scene. Maybe 20-plus fans – who probably had no idea who Rivero was – lined the first-base side.
Field 1 became the place to be, especially since Arodys Vizcaino again looked good in his recovery from the Tommy John surgery that wiped out his last two seasons. Vizcaino – the elite prospect acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the 2012 summer sell-off – hasn’t had any setbacks this spring. Rivero is another power arm the Cubs have collected heading into Year 3 of Epstein’s rebuild.
“He’s making really good adjustments,” Renteria said. “His arm is live. Any tweak or suggestion that Boz gives him, he seems to take in and execute. He might bury one breaking ball and then come back and hit the next one. He’s pretty impressive.”
Rivero, 26, bumped fists with Starlin Castro and Junior Lake after the throwing session. He has a rail-thin frame – 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds – and an explosive mid-90s fastball. He’s said to have a strong desire to learn English – and shown an increasing grasp of the language – since signing his minor-league deal last March.
Rivero appeared in 20 games at Class-A Kane County, advanced Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last season, getting better at each level. He went 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA and put up 45 strikeouts against 12 walks in 30.1 innings overall.
Rivero had to knock off the rust after missing at least a year of real game action while establishing residency in Haiti and getting clearance to sign in the United States. He went 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in the Arizona Fall League, giving up five walks against nine strikeouts in 11 innings.
Rivero became part of the scouting mission when Cubs executives traveled to the Dominican Republic around Thanksgiving 2011, not long after Epstein’s front office took over at Clark and Addison. The Soler showcase headlined that trip.
Rivero played for Industriales in Cuba’s Serie Nacional alongside Gerardo Concepcion, the disappointing $6 million pitcher who hasn’t lived up to the high expectations set by Cubs executives.
The Cubs invited Rivero to last month’s rookie-development program in Chicago, a sign that he might not be that far away anymore.
“We have to remember he had quite a bit of down time,” Renteria said. “He didn’t really start really feeling comfortable – from what I understand – until the latter part of last year. (We) know he’s looking really good and he’s happy with how he’s throwing the ball.”