McALLEN — Juan Rivera doesn’t take lightly starting at shortstop for Sharyland Pioneer.
The added pressure, in the form of more eyes on him and more balls hit his way, is a challenge the junior welcomes.
“They have to be the leader on the team. It’s one of the primary positions in baseball,” Rivera said of shortstops. “I also think you need to take pride in what you do because as a shortstop, everyone’s looking at you and you’re trying to help your team any way you can.”
Rivera, The Monitor’s 2021 All-Area Baseball Defensive Player of the Year, has consistently helped the Diamondbacks win by flashing leather and making difficult plays look routine.
“My defense has always been my main priority. If you can’t field, you can’t play anywhere on the field, so I take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “I work day in, day out on my fielding to perfect my craft as a shortstop.”
A two-time Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association and Texas High School Sports Writers Association All-State selection, Rivera recorded 73 putouts, 17 assists and turned 10 double plays with a .957 fielding percentage this past season.
His quickness and ability to cover ground typically results in a web gem highlight each time he takes the field.
“You feel like the game just stops for a moment, like it’s just revolving around you at that moment. To make those plays, it’s a challenge, but my teammates are there to help me make those plays, as well,” he said.
The UTRGV commit established himself as a defensive force as the starting second baseman on Sharyland Pioneer’s 2019 state-qualifying team. Since moving to shortstop as a sophomore, Rivera has maintained his high level of play the past two years.
“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,” Pioneer head coach Casey Smith said after their trip to 2019 state tournament. “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. Lions don’t sit around, they get after it. And that’s one of the things Juan’s got in him.”
He wasn’t just a defensive playmaker this season, however.
Rivera’s offensive numbers rivaled the best Texas has to offer as he hit .453 with 34 RBIs, 51 runs and one home run. He was also a base-running terror with 54 stolen bases, which ranked second in the nation, according to Max Preps.
“I worked on my speed over the past couple years. As a freshman, I would have never believed I would steal all those bases,” he said. “If I’m on base, I feel like I put my team in a good situation to score right away, especially as the leadoff.”
After a bi-district playoff exit in 2021, Rivera and a loaded incoming senior class are hopeful Pioneer can put together a playoff run next season.
“My class is the main group of the team. We’ll have 15 or 16 seniors next year, and they’re my brothers, so playing my last year with them, knowing we have a good squad and a good chance. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “We just have to keep putting in the work, keep the chemistry we have together and good things will happen.”