Thus far in our Baseball Bloodlines series, we have taken a look at how two fathers — Dante Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero — passed down their legendary big bats to their bouncing baby baseball-playing boys. Today we look at a pitcher, and although he may not have inherited the infamous deadly cutter from his dad, he is learning the ropes as a closer behind a 2016 All-Star season.
Mariano Rivera became one of the most recognizable faces of the New York Yankees late-90s dynasty. He owned opposing hitters out of the bullpen over the course of his 18 years there, despite struggling as a starter in his 1995 debut. It was a debut that saw The Sandman get sent back to the minors. Hard to believe over 20 years later that Mo and his teammate Derek Jeter were sent back to the minor leagues on the same day in 1995 for not meeting expectations. The move seemed to have done them well.
Mo will certainly be a Hall of Famer when his time comes, being one of a rare breed as relievers are often overlooked when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. However, his numbers can’t be denied, registering an MLB-record 652 saves. His numbers in the postseason, of course, turned The Sandman from great closer to legendary icon, as he went 8-1 behind a 0.70 ERA and 42 saves, 11 coming in World Series play. That lone loss was to the Diamondbacks in 2001, the Game 7 walk-off winner by Luis Gonzalez. Even his loss was iconic.
Mariano retired in 2011 and just three years later, Mariano Rivera III was drafted by his own New York Yankees in the 29th round. The Son of Sandman, however, didn’t sign with the Yankees and headed back to Iona. It was a good thing for him, as he was a completely different pitcher his junior season.
His 2014 sophomore campaign wasn’t a good one on paper, but there was promise that led to the Yankees selecting him. Though he went 2-6 with a 5.40 ERA and a low 50-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 70 innings, Mo III led the Gaels and went the distance five times, showing he had the arm and the agility to do so. He also did it behind a SIX-pitch arsenal featuring a fastball, curveball, splitter, changeup, sinker and slider.
When he returned to Iona in 2015, he had honed his skills and as already mentioned, was a seemingly different pitcher, with added fastball velocity and a slider that could strike anybody out. This time around he finished with a team-best 2.65 ERA and six complete games, including three shutouts en route to the MAAC Pitcher of the Year Award. He struck out 11.96 per nine while walking 2.85 per nine, greatly improving on his 2014 numbers. The Washington Nationals liked what they saw, making him a fourth-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft.
The Nationals — to no one’s surprise — moved Mariano to the bullpen. His debut season in the New York-Penn League showed promise, but he certainly struggled. His command appeared to be fine, striking out 26 and walking just three over 33 innings, but he was very hittable, allowing opposing hitters a .333 batting average. When it mattered most, however, he looked a little bit more like his father, going a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities, allowing just two runs over his five chances.
This season, Mo III became a South Atlantic League All-Star, where he pitched a scoreless frame, striking out one. Despite being an All-Star, his first half stats were inflated because of a five-run outing in May. That being said, on paper, Mariano had a string second half. He went 2-1 over the second half, behind an improved 3.28 ERA and 1.23 WHIP while opposing batters hit just .235 against him, down .063 from the first half. He matched his save totals from the first half, going 4-for-7 as well. His walk rate was a bit high, sitting at 3.06 per nine, but he struck out 27 over 35.1 innings.
For more on Mariano III, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full feature by clicking on the link below: