By Chad Dixon
The San Francisco Giants drafted former Smiths Station right-handed pitcher Blake Rivera in the 32nd round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft in 2017, but Rivera opted to return to pitch his sophomore season at Wallace State-Hanceville. In an effort to show him how much they wanted him in their organization, the Giants selected Rivera again on June 5th with their fourth overall pick.
“We had watched the first two rounds at the house on Monday and my advisor told me that he expected some calls for me to go as high as the late second round through the fourth round,” Rivera said.
“Our live stream was a little behind. I started receiving some texts and calls while we were watching pick #95 announced. I am very excited! This has been my dream since I was a kid.”
The Giants selected Rivera 106th overall with their fourth round pick. Rivera was the highest pitcher selected from a junior college in the country. He was named the Alabama Community College Conference Pitcher of the Year on May 22. He led the conference with 98 strikeouts over 67 innings pitched. He recorded 10 wins with a 1.75 ERA.
“It’s a big deal to me to be the highest selected JUCO pitcher. There are junior colleges all over the country and to be selected that high is an honor and a big accomplishment for me,” Rivera added.
Rivera was a member of the 2015 Smiths Station Class 7A state championship team. He is the highest draft selection in school history and hopes to set an example for future Panthers.
“Winning the championship with my friends is still a huge honor for me knowing we were the first ones to ever do it. The program is in good shape and Coach (Mike) Ferry and Coach (Jeff) Davis do a good job of getting the players to work hard and grow them into men. I think me getting drafted shows them that you can do it if you work hard enough,” Rivera stated.
Rivera’s fastball sat in the low 80s when he left Smiths Station. After two seasons at Wallace-Haneville, he has touched 97 mph and increased his velocity by 8 mph.
“JUCO was a great stepping stone. I really matured there. If I could change anything, I would have taken the weight program more seriously in high school. The weight room at Wallace was really small and I had my pitching coaches working with me every day. I grew up there a lot. I refined the grip of my change-up and concentrated on pitching in the zone more,” Rivera added.
He had one of, if not the most, acclaimed curveball in the state coming out of high school. His performance at Wallace-Hanceville earned him a scholarship to Auburn University in November.
“I was excited about going to Auburn and pitching in the SEC, but professional baseball has always been my dream. I told Coach (Butch) Thompson that it would take a lot to keep me from Auburn, but I have this great opportunity with the Giants and I am eager to start,” Rivera said.
Rivera advised he would like to remain a starter, but is willing to pitch out of the bullpen if that is what is asked of him. Rivera was ranked #111 by MLB Pipeline entering the draft. He will likely be flying out to the Giants’ training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., within the coming weeks to begin his journey into professional baseball.