Fourth-round spark plug Riggio already has a NY swagger

July 11th, 2023

NEW YORK -- When the Yankees’ decision-makers evaluate the talent pool before each MLB Draft, part of the equation is to gauge how each prospect might handle life in New York. Roc Riggio has already proven that he isn’t likely to wilt in the spotlight.

The 21-year-old Riggio -- the Yankees' fourth-round pick Monday in the MLB Draft -- showcased his skills and bravado while starring at second base for Oklahoma State. He garnered national attention for a couple of memorable home run celebrations -- experiences that figure to prepare him well to someday wear the pinstripes.

“I like having a target on my back,” Riggio once told The Oklahoman. “I like when guys go at me. I like when people talk [crap] to me. I love all that. Let me hear it. Give it to me, because I know I can handle it. It’s different for other guys who can’t handle it, but I know whatever you throw at me, I can handle.”

Riggio made waves during the 2022 NCAA Tournament Regional, when he celebrated a home run by approaching third base in a tiptoed strut, his arms raised high.

The display came as the fulfillment of a challenge from Riggio’s teammates, who dared him to emulate Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow character from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. It infuriated the Cowboys’ opponent that day, the University of Arkansas. But for anyone who had spent time in the Oklahoma State dugout, that was just Roc being Roc.

There was criticism from the grandstands and beyond, but it did not seem to affect Riggio, then a freshman. To the contrary, he punctuated his next homer against Arkansas with a 16-second sprint around the basepaths, a display dripping in sarcasm.

“Heart over height,” the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Riggio said. “I am a smaller guy, so I need to have that edge. For me, I have tried to have that dirt-bag edge to where you slide to second, you take the guy out and you pick him back up. So, always play with respect to the game, but have fun loving the game as well.”

MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds has compared Riggio’s skill set to former Red Sox spark plug Dustin Pedroia.

OSU first-base coach Jordy Mercer, who played 10 seasons in the Majors (including a brief stint with the Yankees in 2020), once told the Tulsa (Okla.) World that he considers Riggio “the true definition of a ballplayer.”

“In pressure situations with a lot of magnitude, he’s so calm and so relaxed,” Mercer said.

Riggio grew up spending countless hours in the backyard batting cage of his Simi Valley, Calif., home. He then went on to star at Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High School, where he set school records with 12 homers, 45 walks and 52 runs scored during his senior year.

Riggio also won a gold medal with Team USA’s 15U national team in 2017. He was first selected by the Brewers in the 11th round of the 2021 MLB Draft, but he did not sign.

Rebounding from a freshman season that included recovery from offseason shoulder surgery and a less-than-stellar performance in the Cape Cod League, Riggio was an integral piece for Oklahoma State this past season.

Slashing .335/.461/.679 with 17 doubles, three triples, 18 homers and 61 RBIs in 59 games, Riggio showcased an excellent eye at the plate, walking 46 times against 48 strikeouts.

“All our coaches talk about is learning how to be a professional failure, handling that failure,” Riggio said. “I think for all of us that play, summer ball is learning the grind and how to overcome that failure.”

OSU head baseball coach Josh Holliday told The Oklahoman that he senses the experiences of Riggio’s past few years have helped him to mature.

“I think he understands now that baseball’s hard and that there's going to be some ups and downs, but the downs only last as long as you allow your mind to stay occupied in that struggle,” Holliday said. “I compliment him for the way he’s handled himself. I think he’s just growing up, which is awesome. It’s why we all go to college.”

And now, for Riggio, a new chapter appears to be beginning. Pro ball awaits.