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Former JUCO rivals become Tigers Draft picks

Rivera, Arriera selected in 2nd, 4th rounds, respectively
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Sometime soon, Reynaldo Rivera and Giovanni Arriera will report to TigerTown and become teammates. They were already there as opponents, which played a part in how they became Tigers.

The Florida Junior College state tournament took place in Lakeland, culminating with perennial powerhouse Chipola College meeting Palm Beach State. Chipola featured a stacked roster, highlighted by Junior College Player of the Year Rivera, a 6-foot-6 first baseman/outfielder with a powerful left-handed swing. Palm Beach State rode the right arm of Arriera, a 19-year-old out of Miami who blossomed into a power pitcher as a freshman.

DETROIT -- Sometime soon, Reynaldo Rivera and Giovanni Arriera will report to TigerTown and become teammates. They were already there as opponents, which played a part in how they became Tigers.

The Florida Junior College state tournament took place in Lakeland, culminating with perennial powerhouse Chipola College meeting Palm Beach State. Chipola featured a stacked roster, highlighted by Junior College Player of the Year Rivera, a 6-foot-6 first baseman/outfielder with a powerful left-handed swing. Palm Beach State rode the right arm of Arriera, a 19-year-old out of Miami who blossomed into a power pitcher as a freshman.

Draft Day 2 recap

Both put on a show. Rivera hit a home run off the roof of the new Tigers building in right field at Joker Marchant Stadium, according to head coach Jeff Johnson. Arriera showed off a mid-90s fastball and racked up strikeouts.

:: 2017 MLB Draft coverage ::

Chipola won the title game, with Rivera homering. But both players won the ultimate aim, becoming two of the Tigers' first four selections in this year's MLB Draft.

"It worked out perfect," said Arriera, the Tigers' fourth-round selection (125th overall) Tuesday. "I worked hard for it, so I guess it paid off. It's been a long ride, but it's been worth it."

The Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 12 p.m. ET.

The Tigers have had limited work with junior college players over the last few years, and they were the only team to not to draft one in 2016. With a bumper crop of Florida junior college players and a showcase in their backyard, they liked what they saw this time, which is why they selected Rivera in the second round (57th overall).

At Rivera's size, he was hard to miss. Though he registered 150th on MLB Pipeline's pre-Draft list, he put up video game numbers, including a .438 average, a .560 slugging percentage and a 1.399 OPS.

"He's just a freak," Johnson said. "He's 6-6, 250 pounds and runs. He's only 19 years old. His future's all very bright in front of him. You can envision what he can do four years from now."

Video: SJC@CHIP: Reynaldo Rivera belts a solo homer

Palm Beach State coach Kyle Forbes already saw it.

"I honestly think he's a Major League All-Star," Forbes said. "Fastballs, breaking balls, inside, outside, this kid just squared it up off of everybody in the state of Florida. He's a monster of a human. He's very big, and the thing about him is he's very athletic. I think you're going to see him hitting balls in the upper deck."

Rivera has baseball in his blood from his upbringing in Puerto Rico. His godfather is former Tiger Juan Gonzalez, who was one of his coaches in high school. His uncle works in physical therapy with current and former Puerto Rican players.

Though Rivera grew into a basketball frame, sprouting from 5-foot-8 in sixth grade to 6-foot-5 by eighth, he always wanted to play baseball. He ended up at Chipola by chance when his advisor, trying to find a school for him, placed a call to Johnson.

Rivera had an impressive freshman season at age 18, but he passed on a 24th-round selection by the Cubs for another year of development and education, allowing him to finish his associate's degree and make his mom happy.

Tweet from @MLBRBI: Congratulations to @MarlinsRBI RHP Gio Arriera who has been drafted in the fourth round, 125th pick overall, by the @tigers! pic.twitter.com/Z7PTKC9yh5

Arriera was a high school star in Miami, but he went undrafted. He opted for junior college and the chance to try for the Draft after a year of school rather than three.

"I knew if I worked hard enough, I could definitely get to that level in at least a year," Arriera said, "just maturing myself, my body, myself."

Arriera's fastball rose from 89-90 mph to 92-93, topping out at 95. His curveball became sharper, and he developed a changeup that he barely had to use in high school.

"He's a relentless worker and just had a great freshman year," Forbes said of the 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-hander. "His numbers were excellent. He has the delivery and he has the physical frame where I personally feel his best pitching is in front of him. With his body type and the fact that he just turned 19, he is a very good pitcher now and I really feel he could get better."

Essentially, both are just over high school age with a year of collegiate experience. The Tigers hope they found two underrated gems.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

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