KC Royals Prospects: This infielder is getting a long look

(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals, employing some vintage franchise tactics like stealing bases, bunting, and advancing runners when they needed to, scratched their way to an exciting 7-6 victory over Houston Monday night.

Salvador Perez was Salvador Perez when he most needed to be. His clutch two-out single in the eighth inning, a direct result of the Astros’ mystifying choice to pitch to him with first base open, broke a 5-5 tie and gave his club the lead for good.

Whit Merrifield had three hits for the ninth time this season, Nicky Lopez stole three bases for the first time in his career, and the resurgent Ryan O’Hearn had two hits and drove in a pair of runs.

Carlos Hernandez, plagued this season by too many walks, didn’t give the Astros any in the six innings he pitched. Scott Barlow uncharacteristically allowed a run he inherited from Jake Brentz score and gave up a home run, but still won his fifth game of the year.

Rookie third baseman Emmanuel Rivera also played and added a single to Kansas City’s 12-hit attack. But he didn’t drive in a run or score one, and struck out twice.

Despite his quiet night, though, it’s a good bet Rivera will be in the lineup tonight when Kansas City and Houston square off in the second game of their current four-game series at Kauffman Stadium.

That’s because the KC Royals appear ready and willing to give Rivera a long look at third. It’s something they tried to do earlier this season when Rivera, then playing at Triple-A Omaha, received the coveted call to Kansas City.

Rivera’s first shot at a spot with the KC Royals was promising but short.

Kansas City gave Rivera plenty of playing time this spring and he didn’t disappoint. In 23 Cactus League games, he hit .293 with three doubles, a triple, a homer, and six RBIs. It was a good performance, but not good enough to trump the need for further seasoning—after all, Rivera hadn’t played above Double-A—and the Royals assigned him to Omaha.

There he strengthened his case for the majors with 15 home runs, 42 RBIs, and a .286/.338/.604 line in 45 games, enough to prompt the Royals to promote him to the big leagues June 28. Rivera debuted impressively that night in Boston—wasting no time, he rapped the first major league pitch he saw for his first hit, then singled again and went 2-for-4.

The good turned to bad the very next night. Manager Mike Matheny penciled Rivera’s name into the lineup again, but wrist pain forced him out of the game. Diagnosed with a left hamate fracture, Rivera landed on the Injured List the next day, where he stayed until early this month.

Back in the lineup, Emmanuel Rivera is getting a chance with the KC Royals.

Rivera returned to the field Aug. 4 against the White Sox in Chicago. He went 0-for-4 but doubled and drove in two runs against the Sox the next night; the first extra-base hit and RBIs of his career came in the first inning off Dallas Keuchel and proved pivotal—Kansas City won 3-2.

He then went 1-for-7 in two games against St. Louis.

In his seven appearances since then—all starts at third—Rivera’s hitting .304 (7-for-23) with a pair of two-hit games. He’s batting .256 for his short-sample season. Defensively, he’s made three errors, but two of those came in his two June games.

To say Rivera is lighting up Kansas City’s lineup is to exaggerate. So far, he’s not tearing up American League pitching, and has yet to triple or homer. But the fact Rivera is playing and starting consistently (he’s been on Matheny’s lineup card for 11 of the club’s 15 August games) speaks well for his status—the KC Royals obviously like what they see and want to see more.

What will happen with Rivera, and the rest of Kansas City’s infield, when Adalberto Mondesi returns, is anyone’s guess, although it seems clear the Royals are examining their options. Rivera is playing third instead of Hunter Dozier, who’s been in the outfield and hasn’t started a game at third since Rivera returned from the IL.

For now, Emmanuel Rivera is getting a long look.

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Don’t be surprised to see Emmanuel Rivera in the starting lineup tonight when the KC Royals take on Houston at 7:10 p.m. CDT at Kauffman Stadium.