Yesterday, the Yankees signed 34 year old Juan Rivera to a minor league contract. He will try out for the fourth outfield spot come Spring Training, along fellow right-handed hitters Matt Diaz, Russ Canzler, and Thomas Neal.
Rivera came up as an outfielder in the Yankees’ farm system, and made his short debut in pinstripes in 2001. By 2003, he earned a more permanent gig with the team, and finished his season with 185 plate appearances, and a .266/.304/.468 triple slash. After being traded for Javier Vasquez, Rivera went on to hit .275/.325/.444 over the next 9 seasons with the Expos, Angels, Blue Jays, and Dodgers.
The outfielder owns a career 115 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers, which is good for a .286/.333/.489 triple slash. Despite a sluggish bat last season, Rivera maintained a 106 wRC+ against lefties with the Dodgers, and a strong .173 ISO. Though his .245 BABIP is well below his career .279 average, his batted ball rates and results are at career norms, showing that he has more likely undergone regression than bad luck.
Rivera does a decent job of spreading the ball around the field. In 2012, 21% of his hits went to right field, 33% to center field, and 46% to left field. Although he has some the ability to go to opposite field, he has very little power to right, which means the short right field porch will be little help to Rivera.
Perhaps one benefit that Rivera offers is his low strikeout rate. Rivera does a great job of putting the bat on the ball, and over his career has just a 9.0 K% and a 6.6 BB% against left-handed pitchers. As much as Yankee fans have grown to hate strikeouts, double plays are even worse, and Rivera is no stranger to grounding out.
Aside from his short stint in Toronto, Rivera has played in pitcher friendly ballparks since 2005, and owns a career home/away split. The Yankees are hoping that using his platoon advantage and moving him to some of the more hitter friendly ballparks in the AL East will help his production.On a cheap minor league deal, the Yankees have obtained another low-risk/high-reward outfielder.