Prospect Q&A: Kevin Rivers

As this is a website that focuses on the minor league system of the Seattle Mariners, I felt it would be a good idea to help familiarize you with some of the players in the organization.  By that, I don’t just mean with them as prospects, players, and stat lines.  I mean as who they are, both on and off the field.

To do that, I’ll be doing interviews with some of the players as I can.  The first in this series, done with current Clinton OF Kevin Rivers, was originally done about two months ago, so some of the information is pre-Spring Training.  I’m currently working on lining up some more, so hopefully will have new ones for you soon.

Kevin was one of the leaders of the 2010 NWL Champion Everett AquaSox, enjoying good success at the plate as well as helping his team-mates out away from it.  It was common to see him taking guys aside during BP and between innings and giving them pointers for one thing or another, and on Opening Day this year he was seen working as the LumberKings’ first base coach as their manager was away for a personal reason.  If his playing career doesn’t work out, don’t be surprised at all if Kevin pops up as a coach or manager somewhere.

Conor Dowley (MFR): Thanks for joining us, Kevin. Still enjoying the afterglow of winning the Northwest League title last year?  

Kevin Rivers (KR): Definitely.  There is no better feeling than winning a championship.  This year we had great core of guys that clicked on all cylinders at the start of the season and we never looked back.  We all worked so hard through spring training and extended spring training to reach our potential and it felt like all of our hard work over the season finally paid off.

I have actually been on two championship teams since beginning my professional career.  My first year in Arizona we actually won the AZL League championship, so I am 2 for 2 so far and looking to make it 3 for 3.

MFR: Your 2010 performance was something of an eye-opener, posting a strong overall offensive line paired with good defense in the outfield. What part of your game were you most proud of in 2010?

KR: I take pride all aspects of my game.  It is so important to be fine tuned in every facet of the game. I have always had confidence in my abilities to play the game hard and everything came together this season.  My success at the plate helped me build on that confidence and consistently perform at the highest levels of the game.  It took a lot of hard work and dedication over this season and past seasons, and I thank all of my coaches for everything they have instilled in me over the past few years.

MFR: The 60 walks you drew were very impressive, and your 19% walk rate put you among the leaders across all off professional baseball. Is that something you’ve been trying to put a lot of work in to and emphasize in your game?

KR: I put a ton of effort into my approach at the plate during spring training and extended spring.  Coach Scott Steinmann helped me to develop a way to slow the game down while at the plate, and that helped me recognize pitches much earlier out of the pitcher’s hand.

During college I was more of a grip it and rip type player that didn’t walk much.  However, as I have matured, my approach at the plate has become more relaxed and patient and I let the game come to me. Getting on base, whether it’s a walk or a hit, is crucial to a team’s success.

MFR: What would you say your goals for the upcoming season are? Is there any specific part of your skillset that you want to work on and improve in 2011?

KR: My goals for this upcoming season are quite simple: to continue being consistent both at the plate and on the defensive side of the ball.  I am very focused going into this upcoming season and hoping for another successful year.  During the offseason, I have been working on pretty much every part of my game.  I take swings every day and am learning to hit consistently to all fields.

Being from Connecticut and having several feet of snow on the ground all winter, it is extremely tough to get outside to do things like long toss and defensive drills.   I credit my personal trainer, Pete Asadourian, because the opportunity to train his indoor facility has kept me motivated and he has improved my quickness and speed this offseason which will improve my defensive game.

MFR: Which Mariners affiliate do you hope to be assigned to next year?  Clinton is the next step up the ladder for you, obviously, but are you hoping to maybe wind up in the friendly offensive climate at High Desert?

KR: Coming out of spring training, I would like to be on the High Desert roster.  But no matter where I am placed I will come to park every day, focused and ready to play the game. I just try to control the thing I can, such as my work ethic and attitude on the field, and just let the rest fall where it may.

MFR: It certainly seemed like a loose and fun clubhouse in Everett last year, full of some rather real characters. How did you enjoy the atmosphere? Anyone from that group that you’ll be keeping in touch with in the future?

KR: Everett was a great place to play. The atmosphere in the clubhouse was awesome and we loved to have fun and joke with each other. We had a great core of guys that had been together through extended spring training. We lost most of our pitching staff due to call-ups and had a completely different core of pitchers in the end, but it didn’t stop us. That was our team and we won it all. We all played hard and with confidence while managing to have a lot of fun every day.

Jose Moreno was a great manager and helped keep the clubhouse loose and confident.  Everett also had a big fan base; an enthusiastic crowd is always a plus.  The Aquasox staff  was also very supportive and somehow managed to get us guys to do a few very funny videos.  I try to keep in touch with most of the guys.  It’s tough because we live all over the world. I look forward to seeing them when we return to Peoria in March.

MFR: I know that Katie, the woman in charge of community relations, gave you guys a lot of friendly grief at times last year, trying to work interviews and other things out of you and your teammates.  Did you guys ever do anything to turn the tables a bit?

KR: Katie was in and out of the clubhouse on a daily basis. We as a team loved to give her a hard time and joke with her.  As a team we did make it a point to get soaked after we won the championship.  She was trying to hide because she knew what we were trying to do, but it didn’t work: we still got her good (ed. note- I can confirm this. They got her good twice, in fact). I can’t think of any real good stories about Katie off the top of my head just some games we would play to give her a hard time.

I would love to flip the camera and ask her some questions for an interview, or maybe catch her practicing her dance moves like she did with us, and put it up on youtube for the world to see.  I could think of some things to attempt to embarrass her like she did with all of us, like putting my head on elmo’s body for my interview that she put on youtube.

MFR: How did you feel when the Mariners offered you a contract after going undrafted?  Were there any other teams that showed an interest in signing you?

KR: That day was very hectic and very exciting. I received a letter in the mail for a invitation only try-out for the Seattle Mariners prior to the Cape Cod league All-Star game in the summer of 2009.  I attended the try-out in Brockton, Massachusetts trying to make a name for myself and prove that I can perform professionally for the 2010 MLB draft.

I ended up having a terrific day all-around and was offered a contract from Seattle. It was the best feeling to have my dream of becoming a professional baseball come true.  All the years of hard work had paid off.

MFR: Now that you have a couple of years of swinging a wood bat, how would you say the transition has gone from swinging a metal bat in college?  Your numbers last year speak for themselves, but that’s something a lot of hitters have a bit of a hard time with.

KR: I actually played with wood bats while in college.  Franklin Pierce is a part of the Northeast-10 conference which is a wood bat conference.  We only got to play with metal bats during out of conference games, and it felt like you had a weapon in your hand.  That was one on the main reasons why I chose Franklin Pierce because of the opportunity to play with wood year round.

The transition my freshman year coming out of high school was very tough getting the feel for the wood. The jam shot bloopers with metal became broken bat outs in college. It helped me to have a better understanding of the strike zone and be more patient. I feel that attending Franklin Pierce and playing with wood bats really prepared me and my teammates for the next level.

MFR: What have you been up to this offseason?

KR: When I got back home in September I returned to Franklin Pierce and finished up my Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management. I am proud of that accomplishment.  I’ve been home this winter catching up with friends, family, and my girlfriend that I missed while I was gone.

I  go to Future Fitness with my trainer Pete five days a week, and I also hit and throw 4-5 times a week at a cage close to my house.  I’ve been able to go to a Patriot’s game, to see the Boston Bruins, and catch a couple UCONN men’s basketball games.

MFR: Congratulations on the degree! Are there any other sports that you follow? What are some of your favorite teams?

KR: In the offseason I follow college basketball. I love the competitiveness of the games, although my team the North Carolina Tarheels have been struggling the past few seasons.  I also follow the hometown UCONN Huskies.  I’ve been big time Boston fan since I was a little kid. I love the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots.  There’s nothing better than going to Fenway Park in the summertime,  having a delicious boiled Fenway Frank and watching the Sox win.

MFR: A Red Sox fan, eh?  Well, I suppose we can forgive that after the way you hit last year!  Enjoy what’s left of your offseason, and best of luck to you in the coming year!  I’m sure we all hope you run that championship streak out for at least a few more years.

Note: This interview, conducted by myself, was originally published at Pro Ball NW and was republished here with the consent of Jon Shields.  The videos included in this publication were taken by myself during games at Everett Memorial Stadium.

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