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Click here for more on this story
Posted: Tuesday March 20, 2001 5:17 PM

Baseball Bust  

Swing and a miss

By Tom Verducci

Sports Illustrated Ruben Rivera was once a fleet, power-hitting Yankees centerfield prospect seemingly destined to join the pantheon of pin-striped legends. Upon his release by the Padres last week at age 27, Rivera instead found company alongside the Y2K bug as one of the most overhyped busts of this generation.

"The Yankees haven't had a talent like this since Mickey Mantle," gushed Rivera's Arizona Fall League manager, John Stearns, in 1994. White Sox scout Mike Pazik said that autumn that Chicago would have to give up reigning two-time MVP Frank Thomas for Rivera, who had 33 homers and 48 steals in Class A ball in '94. New York did trade Rivera, to San Diego in 1997 for the similarly overpraised Hideki Irabu.

As it turned out, the 6'3", 208-pound Rivera couldn't catch up with a mediocre fastball -- in 1,115 at bats he hit .210 -- and budget-conscious San Diego couldn't justify his $1 million salary. "You looked at his body and thought you were seeing something special, but he was just an average guy," says one scout. "The only times I saw him hit were against Number 4 or 5 starters. He was never anything but potential."

Guys like Rivera are known as scouts' players: They exhibit speed, power and size, but their athleticism never translates into production. "From five o'clock to seven o'clock Ruben was great," says Padres general manager Kevin Towers. "He'd hit second-deck home runs in batting practice that would make your jaw drop. But once the game started, everything sped up and Ruben couldn't keep up."

Rivera will hook on with another club because he can provide defense and speed off the bench, and because some team will be tantalized by his potential. Towers, though, isn't worried that Rivera might become more legend than myth: "When I started in this business, I really believed in radar guns and stopwatches. The longer I'm around, the less I believe in them. You have to find out what's inside a player. We never saw that fire inside Ruben."

Issue date: March 26, 2001

For more Scorecard see this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday, March 21. Click here to subscribe to SI.

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