BY STEVE KRAH
University of Indianapolis sophomore left-hander Xavier Rivas was named 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings NCAA Division II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder in his second year in the Greyhounds starting rotation went 7-0 with a 2.24 earned run average, 128 strikeouts and 31 walks in 80 1/3 innings over 12 games. His WHIP (walks and hits allowed by innings pitched) was 0.98. Opponents hit .170 off the southpaw.
All this from someone who refers to himself as a “late bloomer.”
“The winter before my senior year I was throwing 78 to 82 mph, but I wanted to play (in college),” says Rivas, a 2020 Portage (Ind.) High School graduate. “I didn’t want to go and sit.
“I was a big kid but I hadn’t grown into my body.”
Rivas made a visit to UIndy, threw a bullpen for the coaches and was offered a spot on the team.
“The rest is history,” says Rivas, who credits several people for his ascension.
The winter before his junior year at Portage, Rivas began training with Joe Plesac (who was the pitching coach at Andrean High School Merrillville, Ind.).
“My dad go word of him through my strength coach in Valparaiso (Bub Pullins, whose son Gunnar Pullins was a senior first baseman on the Olivet Nazarene University team in 2022),” says Rivas.
At UIndy, Rivas has learned from head coach Al Ready and two pitching coaches — first Landon Hutchison and then Adam Cornwell. Trevor Forde is another Greyhounds assistant.
“He’s big on trust,” says Rivas of Ready. “He’s do anything for the players.
“It’s nice hearing his opinion. He was a real good hitter.”
Hutchison assisted the lefty with his mechanics and Cornwell with the mental side of things.
“When I came I had a real robotic back-side arm action,” says Rivas. “(Hutchison) was a big numbers guy. We used Rapsodo (cameras) and he taught me my slider.
“(Cornwell) played some pro ball and at UIndy. He’s taught me a lot. He’s helped me with some mechanical cues that added on a few miles per hour.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm angle, Rivas employs a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up.
During the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament with warm temperatures that the Greyhounds rarely saw in 2022 (he only pitched two times with the game-time thermometer reaching 60 and one start it was 17 with the wind chill), Rivas was above to get a sweat going on the mound and get his four-seamer up to 92 mph.
“We would have themes for bus rides,” says Rivas. “One time it a beach theme and we wore shorts and flip-flops. When we left Indianapolis it was in the 60s or 70s. It was in the 40s when we got there.
“That’s the nature of the beast in the Midwest. It’s bipolar weather.”
Rivas delivers his curve over the top close to 12-to-6 on the clock face.
In an attempt to “tunnel” his pitches, he wants them to look the same coming out of his hand and as they near the plate then they move in different ways.
Throwing his slider and change-up around the same speed — 80 to 84 mph — he tries to get the slider to dive down and to the right back foot of right-handed hitters. The change-up goes away from righties.
Rivas played one varsity season for Portage head coach Bob Dixon in 2019 (the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic).
“He was an older school guy and a nice guy,” says Rivas of Dixon.
The pitcher underwent knee surgery from a wrestling injury and played junior varsity ball as a Portage sophomore.
Wrestling is a big deal in Xavier’s family. His father Jeremy Rivas went to the IHSAA State Finals three times and was a state runner-up at 125 pounds as a Portage senior in 1993.
Jeremy coached at Hobart (Ind.) High School and helped Alex Ramos to a pair of state titles (1999 at 119 and 2000 at 125) and a fifth-place finish (1998 at 119).
Xavier Rivas wrestled from sixth through ninth grade for Portage (Leroy Vega was his high school coach). A torn meniscus as a sophomore put an end to his mat career.
“I knew baseball was my future,” says Rivas, who was coaxed by friends to play football as a senior. He was a wide receiver and tight end for the Indians in the fall of 2018.
Rivas did some powerlifting as early as high school freshman, but nothing was organized.
“When I got to college I saw how strong everyone was,” says Rivas. “I’m very competitive. I wanted to be the strongest one on the team.”
He got serious about lifting and began getting workouts from friend and competitive lifter Aaron Blake and went heavy with all his lifts when there was a two-month break at UIndy during the winter of 2020-21.
“I got up to 230 pounds,” says Rivas.
A Mechanical Engineering major, Rivas expects to graduate in five years. He is heading into his true junior year. He did not get an extra year of eligibility since he was not in college during the pandemic.
He took a heavy course load during his freshman season — 18 hours — and struggled while doing all online courses and being on the road frequently with the baseball team.
“I tried to study on the bus but that didn’t work,” says Rivas.
This year has been better with in-person classes and 17 hours in the fall and 15 in the spring.
“That was much better,” says Rivas, who mentors freshmen teammates so they don’t suffer the same as he did.
This summer, Rivas is with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
Looking for innings, he spent part of the summer of 2021 playing American Legion ball for the South Haven Post 502 Blaze. He spent part of the previous summer with the Midwest Irish.
Born in Hobart, Rivas grew up in South Haven and moved to Portage in the middle of his sixth grad year.
He started at South Haven Little League at 4. He was playing there and in travel ball at 9. The Portage Tribe and Morris Chiefs were two of his other travel ball teams.
Xavier’s mother is Nina Rivas. Sister Mya Rivas (18) is a 2022 Portage graduate who is headed to Purdue University.