Lafayette senior Geo Rivera has been the pitcher for the Rams baseball team since his freshman year, and he’s been offered a scholarship to play for Old Dominion University in the fall.
It’s also possible that Rivera may become the first student-athlete in Williamsburg to be drafted to the major leagues out of high school when the MLB Draft takes place in June.
Over six feet tall, and very soft-spoken, Rivera has been playing baseball since he was 5. It began for him the same way it did for many other boys, playing catch with his father, and has now led to a college scholarship and MLB scouts in the bleachers.
“From the first time I picked up a ball, I knew I wanted to play this sport more than anything else,” said Rivera. “Baseball was my first love, and I still smile every time I take the field.”
In his two years at Lafayette, and more than two decades at Bruton, Lafayette athletic director Kyle Neve said that the amount of attention Rivera has been getting has been incredible.
“We’ve had some great athletes, and some great baseball players over the years, but none have earned attention from the pros the way that Geo has,” said Neve. “In baseball, scouts these days look for a guy with size, strength, and versatility, a big guy with big numbers, and Geo’s got that, and can throw a 95 mile-per-hour fastball.”
While several former Lafayette student-athletes have played professionally, including NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor and PGA tour golfer Mark Carnevale, all of them played in college first. If drafted, Geo will be the first player drafted out of high school from any of the four schools in Williamsburg.
“There have been several scouts at games this season and last year, and even they comment on not just the kind of player he is, but the kind of person he is,” said Neve. “He’s got a bright future in the sport ahead of him, and he’s set to play for ODU regardless of what happens with the draft, so anything else is just icing on the cake.”
In his 11 years as the coach of the Lafayette Rams baseball team, Rick Schenk says while pro scouts have looked over some of his players before, Geo has attracted more attention than most.
“We’ve had a few scouts come through over the years, usually looking at our pitchers, they call it a “million-dollar-arm” for a reason,” said Schenk. “While we haven’t had any drafted straight out of high school from Lafayette yet, it’s not too uncommon, especially in the later rounds for high school kids to be selected.”
While not as high profile as it is in professional basketball, it’s actually far more common for professional baseball players to be drafted out of high school, going as far back as the first MLB draft in 1965. Of the 1,214 players selected in the 2018 draft, 304 were high school players.
The MLB draft also works differently from other professional sports drafts, in that players do not have to declare for the draft, as football and basketball players might. Instead, teams draft from any eligible players, high school, college or amateur, and then the player may choose to commit or decline.
“When a team drafts a high school player, they look at it as an investment, not only because of potential or talent but because a great player at 18 is only going to get stronger by the time they turn 21,” said Schenk. “They go in the first five to ten rounds, get some rookie ball play in the minor leagues, wherever that may be, before graduating to the majors.”
As an example, Schenk mentioned Jake Cave, who played outfield for Kecoughtan High School in Hampton, and was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in 2011. Cave spent a few years in the minors before making his MLB debut last year for the Minnesota Twins.
As someone who grew up idolizing players like Cave, one of the most unreal parts of the experience for Rivera is that he may soon become another part of that Lafayette athletic tradition.
“It’s crazy to think about that, I’ve always looked up to the pros, the idea that I am those close to being one myself, that’s still not quite real to me,” said Rivera. “That a few years from now, there may be kids taking the field behind the school, wondering if they can throw the ball like me, honestly, that’s a little terrifying.”
A lifelong fan of the New York Yankees, he’s not picky about who may come calling. While having scouts in the stands is exciting, Rivera won’t let it distract him, saying he was taught better than that.
“I’ve had a lot of help getting to where I am today as a player, I’m there because of guys like coach Rick, or my dad, who always been my earliest coach and my biggest supporter,” said Rivera. “I’m lucky, I had a lot of great support, and a great community behind me, it made me who I am today.”
Whether Rivera ends the summer entering the MLB or heading off to play for ODU, for now, Rivera says his focus remains on Lafayette for now, both on graduating in June and seeing if the Rams can contend for states.
“If I get to go play pro baseball out of high school, that’s great, if I go play for ODU and try for the pros again in a few years, that’s great, too,” said Rivera. “Right now, I’ve still got a season to play, and I get to go out and do what I love every time I take the field, so I’m happy.”
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.