The Chicago Cubs signed Cuban right-handed pitcher Armando Rivero for $3.1 million in March of last year, and the 26-year-old is proving that he may be ready to join the major league roster at some point this summer. In short, all Rivero has done in the minor leagues is strike batters out.
Across three levels in 2013, Rivero had a cumulative strikeout rate of 13.4 K/9 with 45 strikeouts in 30.1 innings. Rivero has pitched exclusively at double-A in 2014 and so far he has 20 strikeouts in 12.1 innings. Rivero also owns a 1.46 ERA to go along with four saves.
While Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm both seem capable of holding down the role of closer after Pedro Strop and Jose Veras have proven to be wildly inconsistent, Rivero may end up being the Cubs’ best option for the back of the bullpen.
Rivero has three pitches, but scouts have always believed that he profiles best as a relief pitcher. His fastball can reach 96 mph, to go along with a breaking ball and a splitter. Rivero’s three-pitch arsenal is somewhat similar to another power pitcher currently in the minor leagues who also has potential to take over as closer, Arodys Vizcaino.
While Vizcaino has shown better command than Rivero by walking fewer batters, the Cubs may still be holding out hope that Vizcaino can eventually return to the starting rotation. The same may also hold true for Grimm. If that is the case, it would make more sense to give the closer’s job to a pitcher who has the potential to hold onto the role long-term.
With Rivero’s advancing age and increasingly impressive results, it’s going to be difficult for the Cubs to keep him in the minor leagues much longer. As the current closer for the Tennessee Smokies, the Cubs may be grooming Rivero to take over as the closer at the MLB level as soon as this summer.