Chatham manager Tom Holliday doesn’t mince his words. Ask the Anglers skipper about any aspect of the Cape Cod Baseball League and he’ll shoot you straight, often offering a colorful sound-byte that provides a glimpse at the manager’s unique outlook of baseball.
Knowing Holliday is forthright, it makes the manager’s analysis of Chatham shortstop Josh Rivera all the more impressive.
“He’s the real deal. He’s a real-deal shortstop,” Holliday declared when asked about Rivera’s defensive prowess. “That kid’s going to play in the big leagues at short if he learns how to hit and learns how to not show emotion and be a little more composed.”
Although Rivera is working toward one day becoming a Major League shortstop, the Anglers’ lone representative on this year’s Cape League All-Star team didn’t always find himself playing shortstop, which is often regarded as the most important position in a team’s infield.
In fact, it wasn’t until Rivera, a native of Avon Park, Fla., enrolled at the University of Florida that he began his transition to shortstop.
“I played shortstop when I was real young, like 9 years old and stuff, but I moved over to third base,” explains Rivera. “My first year on the big field—13U—I played third base and that carried that way all the way up until senior year of high school. Once I hit UF campus in the fall, they told me there was an opportunity for me to be the starting shortstop, so I just worked.”
Rivera ultimately earned the Gators’ starting shortstop job as a freshman after spending countless hours fielding grounders during the fall and winter before the season started.
Changing positions meant the hard-throwing infielder had to make some tweaks to his game, most notably his timing. He discovered he had extra time to throw the ball from shortstop that he never had at third.
“It definitely takes a lot of hard work. A lot of grinding, a lot of reps,” Rivera said about changing positions. “The biggest thing is making sure you get the muscle memory right and make sure not to speed yourself up, because there’s a lot of balls that can be hit really hard out to that position.
“You have a lot more time to react to it, but you also have to think about your footwork and how to find a seam [on the ball] and make a good throw over to first base with all of that time.
If you watch Rivera play shortstop for the Anglers, you’ll see a smooth fielder capable of covering ground. He’ll make some plays with his backhand or even in mid-air, and he’ll show off the strong arm that makes him one of the top infielder prospects playing in the Cape League this summer.
His style of play is reminiscent to Robinson Cano, a longtime Major League second baseman who played for the New York Mets last season.
“I always loved how he made everything look so smooth, he made it look so easy,” Rivera said of Cano. “I always try to mimic him and look as smooth and relaxed as he did.”
Hitting against the Cape League’s top pitching has been an adjustment for Rivera, who is batting .231 with three RBIs, 13 runs and one home run through 29 games.
Getting used to hitting with a wood bat has been a little tricky, but Rivera feels he is starting to get the hang of it.
“The biggest thing is trying to get the barrel head out there,” he said. “Especially with wood. I broke three bats early in the year, so that definitely taught me that you don’t want to get jammed and you want to get the barrel head out there as quickly as you can.”
Despite all of the adjustments he has been making, Rivera said he’s enjoyed his time on the Cape.
“It’s been a great experience, definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to come out here and play on the Cape,” he said.
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org
Recent/Upcoming Games For Chatham (11-17-3)
July 25: Falmouth 5, Chatham 4
July 26: Chatham 3, Falmouth 1
July 28: Chatham at Orleans, 7 p.m.
July 30: Chatham at Harwich, 6:30 p.m.
July 31: Orleans at Chatham, 7 p.m.