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SF's 4th-rounder drawing Kimbrel comparisons

Hard-throwing righty Rivera impressing at Wallace State Community College
Special to MLB.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- A month ago, Blake Rivera had a rather frank question for longtime head coach Randy Putman during his exit meeting at Wallace State Community College.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- A month ago, Blake Rivera had a rather frank question for longtime head coach Randy Putman during his exit meeting at Wallace State Community College.

Draft Tracker: Every Giants pick

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

"Do you think I'm ready for professional baseball?"

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That reminded Putman of the time when, a little over a decade ago, another young right-handed fireballer -- this one by the name of Craig Kimbrel -- had asked him a similar question: "You think I can get big league hitters out one day?"

"There was no doubt," Putman recalls. "I said, 'There's no doubt you can get out big league hitters.' Rivera's the same way."

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Every Draft season, fans and pundits alike look for pro comparisons for draftees -- it's much easier to contextualize a prospect's ability and anticipate his arrival when one can say, for example, "Oh, he could be the next Buster Posey."

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For Rivera, the Giants' fourth-round selection in the 2018 MLB Draft at 106th overall, the comparisons to Kimbrel really write themselves -- at first glance, more due to circumstance than anything else.

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Both Rivera and Kimbrel were late Draft selections after their freshman seasons -- Rivera was taken by the Giants in the 32nd round in 2017, while Kimbrel was a 33rd-round selection in '07.

They both elected to return to school instead of signing. They both dominated as sophomores. And they both shot up Draft boards thereafter -- Rivera into the fourth round in 2018, and Kimbrel into the third round in '08.

But according to Putman, the parallels extend to their talent, too. In fact, the 27-year veteran head coach actually feels that Rivera, 20, is more polished at this point than Kimbrel was back in 2008, when the six-time All-Star closer was drafted by the Braves.

"They're very similar in their stuff, as we would like to call it," Putman said. "Craig, actually, he became the pitcher that he is once he got with the Braves in the Minor Leagues. Rivera is more advanced in terms of being able to command both sides of the strike zone, the breaking pitch is a lot more consistent right now."

Armed with a power fastball and a curveball that Putman believes could already be Major League-ready, Rivera has a repertoire that mirrors that of Kimbrel, a fastball-curve pitcher in the Majors. But Rivera also spent his sophomore season developing a changeup that he's comfortable throwing for strikes.

"Ever since I've been pitching and throwing a curveball, I've gripped it the same way," Rivera said. "It's been a pitch that I've stuck with and really tried to get better with. Sometimes, I'll get up there and feel like I have better command with it than I do with my fastball."

For some young athletes, getting tagged with a comparison as notable as Kimbrel might add an added level of pressure and expectation to an experience that never lacks for either, particularly for those drafted in the first few rounds.

For Rivera, it's motivation.

"As my assistant coach, [Ben] Hawkins, has always said, 'Pressure is always a privilege,'" Rivera said. "I look at it as, yes, it's pressure on me that people are comparing me to him, but it's also motivation for me to go out and work and try to prove to these people that I can live up to these comparisons and go out and try to do the things he's doing."

Though Rivera was a starter at Wallace State, posting a 17-1 record with 170 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings over two seasons, scouts have also been quick to pick up on the parallels, and several have asked Putman whether Rivera could follow in Kimbrel's footsteps and be a closer at the next level.

"I believe he can," Putman said. "I think he can be similar to Kimbrel, because, like I said, he's got the hard breaking pitch and he's got the velocity."

"To compare me to a guy like Craig Kimbrel is amazing," Rivera said. "He's arguably the best closer in the game. You can look at his stats and see that. Just for [Putman] to say that he thinks I'm a little more polished than he was then, that gives me confidence to say, 'Hey, if he thinks that, and if Kimbrel is where he's at now, then why can't I do it, too?'"

Do-Hyoung Park is a contributor to MLB.com based in the Bay Area.

San Francisco Giants