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Thursday, June 14, 2012

A 'California guy' at heart

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLIS - When it came time for top 2013 prospect Christopher Rivera to verbally commit to a college where he might someday continue his baseball career, he didn't have to look very far from home.

Rivera, the country's No. 2-ranked shortstop prospect (No. 6 top prospect overall) lists his hometown as Fullerton, Calif. And not far from his home in Fullerton is California State University at Fullerton - commonly known at Cal State Fullerton - an institution with as rich of a college baseball history as any other on the West Coast.

"I've always been a California guy and I didn't want to go (to school) outside of California; Cal State (Fullerton) was like a second home to me," Rivera said Thursday morning from the playing field at the Metrodome. "I used to go to all the games over there and I used to watch all the players. Once (the coaching staff) said they wanted me to go there, that was my No. 1 verbal. I didn't look anyplace else."

Rivera was half-a-country away from his "California guy" roots on Thursday while taking part in the nationally acclaimed 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase.

Close to 300 of the top prospects in the class of 2013 (with one from the class of 2014) will participate in PG National workouts and have the opportunity to play in three nine inning games by the time the National wraps up its five-day run Monday afternoon.

"I'm feeling really great this morning," Rivera said right after taking part in the infield arm velocity workout. "I came in a little late last night but I got my rest and I'm feeling really good.

"Being involved in this event is a real big deal to me," he continued. "It's the best of the best out here, and everybody's ranked and you come out here and you see the best players and you hit against the best pitchers and it's a big deal and it means a lot to me."

Rivera will be a senior in the fall at El Dorado High School in Fullerton and has wasted little time in rising to the top of most of the scouts' lists of top-notch shortstop prospects since playing in his first PG event the summer before his sophomore year in high school.

Perfect Game's David Rawnsley and Allan Simpson rank him as the No. 14 overall prospect in the 2013 MLB amateur draft, and No. 4 among the potential draft-eligible high school seniors. He trails only right-hander Clinton Hollon, outfielder Austin Meadows and shortstop Oscar Mercado on that list, and all three of those prospects are also here this weekend.

Mercado, in fact, is a teammate of Rivera's on both the PG Green squad here at the PG National and also with powerhouse travel ball outfit Marucci Elite.

Rivera's first experience with Perfect Game came at the 2010 PG WWBA South Qualifier in Austin, Texas, when he was playing with the Houston Banditos 17u Black. He played in the 2010 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship with Marucci Elite, then skipped that event in 2011 to play with Marucci Elite in the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.

Marucci Elite, with head coach Chad Raley, won that tournament championship.

"That was a great week. We all just played the best that we knew how to play and things happened and we just happened to win the championship, Rivera said, adding that his association with Baton Rouge, La.-based Marucci Elite has been a blessing.

"Chad Raley has been a great help to me ... and he takes care of me like my own dad," he said. "Marucci is just a great organization."

Raley reciprocated with some kind words of his own.

"He's one of the most respectful kids I've ever coached," the Marucci Elite coach said Thursday. "He's extremely humble and he works hard. He's a great kid and he comes from a great family."

And then Raley spoke about the challenges of having the country's two top-ranked shortstops on his summer and fall roster. "Defensively, it just comes real easy to both of them," he said.

Raley said he was initially apprehensive about approaching Rivera and asking him to slide over to second base so Mercado could play short at the PG WWBA World Championship.

"In Chris' case, like down in Jupiter, he was fine with moving to second," he said. "We had Oscar, and Oscar's a great shortstop and so is Chris, but he was just basically, 'Coach, I'll play where ever you need me to play for us to win. Whatever the team needs.' He just wants to win."

Rivera will take part in the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars 18u team trials in the coming weeks and then will prepare for a long summer of action in various PG WWBA and PG BCS Finals with Marucci Elite. His only goals this summer are simple ones.

"I want to have fun and stay healthy; not have any bad injuries that causes me to miss any games," he said. "Staying healthy is probably my number one thing right now."

Rivera made the trip from southern California to Minnesota for the PG National by himself. He's a self-assured young man, seemingly ready to keep moving through life and building on what looks to be a promising future on the baseball field.

On Thursday, he was only concerned with performing well on a national stage. He threw 87 mph across the infield, ran a 6.99-second 60-yard dash and had an excellent batting practice session, according to first-hand reports.

"I'm just trying to play the best baseball the way I know how to play it and try to stay within myself and not try to do too much," Rivera said. "I want to let my game (speak) for itself and see how it plays out."

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