Sharyland Pioneer’s Juan Rivera named The Monitor’s Newcomer of the Year

MISSION — The top of the order is up to bat for Sharyland Pioneer as leadoff man Juan Rivera steps to the plate. Standing just over 5 feet tall, the first thing opponents notice is the freshman’s frame, but as soon as the first pitch comes his way, they’re instantly made aware of his big game.

“I love it because people always underestimate me and doubt me for my size; I don’t let that affect me,” Rivera said. “I just want them to know that I’m doing what I love and I’ll give it 100 percent until I fall.”

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Rivera gave his all on the diamond during his first year of high school ball as the freshman boasted a .457 batting average and had 23 runs, 21 RBIs, 15 walks and 13 stolen bases, helping lead the Pioneer Diamondbacks on a run to the UIL 5A state tournament in Round Rock.

That’s why Juan Rivera is The Monitor’s 2019 All-Area Newcomer of the Year.

“I didn’t have any pressure on me, I didn’t have to think about the age. I just wanted everybody to know that I’m a ball-player and it doesn’t matter how old you are,” he said.

Rivera spent the first half of the season at Mission High before transferring to Sharyland Pioneer, but the one thing that remained the same was his skill in the batter’s box and at second base. His addition to the Diamondbacks’ lineup as the leadoff allowed coach Casey Smith to move some big hitters down the lineup, bolstering the order from top to bottom.

“I feel like my game helped this team out a lot because I’m always on base and I’ll play some good defense. I just love being the spark,” Rivera said.

Sharyland Pioneer’s Juan Rivera (24) jumps back to first base against Sharyland High 5A Regional finals one of series at UTRGV Stadium on Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

After the Diamondbacks’ season came to an end at Dell Diamond in the final four, Rivera tweeted a picture along with the words “I’ve been David vs Goliath my whole life, I don’t let that affect me.” Smith praised Rivera’s mentality and approach to the game.

“One of the things Juan brings is a toughness and he does provide a spark. He’s that guy that is not afraid of a challenge, not afraid of a situation,” Smith said. “One of the things we talk about is having a lion mentality, that we want to go out and hunt, we want to go out and eat. Lion’s don’t sit around, they get after it, and that’s one of the things Juan’s got in him.”

So with three years left to play at the high school level, Rivera isn’t just looking for another deep postseason run with the Diamondbacks. Having earned the nickname “Juan Altuve” from coaches and teammates, a nod to the 5 feet 6 inch Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros and their similarities in size, play and position, Rivera will continue attacking things with his lion mentality.

“It gives me a lot of confidence and energy knowing that there’s someone in the MLB out there like me. Knowing that it could happen one day, I’m just going to keep grinding,” Rivera said.

Sharyland Pioneer’s Juan Rivera (24) throws to first after an out against Sharyland High’s Chase Gerlach (6) in the forth inning in a 5A Regional final series game 2 at UTRGV Stadium on Friday, May 31, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)