KC Royals Projections: Is Emmanuel Rivera the odd man out?

(Mandatory Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports) /

Emmanuel Rivera was living the dream last season. He began the baseball year in spring training with the KC Royals, hit .293 with a home run and six RBIs in 23 Cactus League games, then started the regular season at Triple-A Omaha, a level higher than he’d ever played professionally.

Then, before he’d put in even two full months with the Storm Chasers, whose season didn’t begin until May, Rivera’s 14 homers, 40 RBIs and .287 average in 44 games earned him a promotion to the Royals.

And to make things even better, Rivera started at third base as soon as he met the team in Boston and rapped a single in his first major league at-bat. He singled once more to collect two hits in his big league debut.

But dream turned to nightmare the very next night. In the lineup again, Rivera suffered a left hamate fracture and didn’t play for Kansas City again until August. He clubbed his first major league homer and hit .336 that month, but slumped to .143 in four games in September before finishing the season back at Omaha.

Rivera remains on the Royals’ radar. But will he stay there this season?

How FanGraphs projects Emmanuel Rivera will do for the KC Royals in 2022.

FanGraphs (Depth Chart version) predicts that in 16 games and 70 plate appearances this season, Rivera will slash .253/.298/.400, hit two homers and drive in eight runs.

How will Emmanuel Rivera actually perform for the KC Royals this season?

His minor league numbers prove Rivera is a reliable hitter with a bit of power and some speed. In six seasons, he’s hitting .272 with 105 doubles, 20 triples, 46 home runs, and 36 stolen bases. And although it’s a small sample size, his .256 average in 90 big league at-bats with Kansas City last season suggests he’ll be a serviceable big league hitter.

But he’ll need more playing time to conclusively establish himself at the plate, and that’s something he may not get with the Royals and their talent-heavy infield. Wherever Manager Mike Matheny ultimately chooses to play them, Rivera, who’s played every infield position as a professional during a regular season or winter ball, isn’t going to beat out Adalberto Mondesi, Nicky Lopez or Bobby Witt Jr., or Whit Merrifield if Mondesi’s health prevents him from playing regularly and Merrifield returns to the infield.

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However, even that scenario blocks Rivera. As long as Mondesi can play a part-time role, he’ll be Matheny’s first choice to sub for the other left-side infielders when necessary, leaving Rivera without a strong claim to a roster spot—unless, of course, the club elects to carry another infielder, management decides Hunter Dozier’s days at third are over even in a fill-in role, or Mondesi suffers a long-term injury.

What, then, to expect from Rivera in 2022? He’ll spend most, if not all, of the season at Omaha, but should get some time with Kansas City, where he’ll hit in the .255-.265 range. And he could be a trade target if another club needs a reserve infielder.

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Kansas City’s infield is crowded. Emmanuel Rivera could be the odd man out.