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Player Profile: Alexis Rios

Much was made about Alexis Rios' hot start to the season, when he hit 6 homers in his first 69 at-bats, coming off a season where he had just smacked 10 roundtrippers in 481 at-bats. Rios was supposed to be a quality offensive player, but had failed to live up to expectations prior to this year. His valuable defensive play in the outfield and his dormant offensive potential were essentially what kept him in the lineup and gave him a shot in 2006, and so far J.P. Ricciardi has to be pleased with his decision to keep Rios over Gabe Gross.

Alexis Rios was selected by the Blue Jays in the first round of the 1999 amateur draft with the 19th overall pick. He was placed in Rookie League at age 18, where he hit .269/.321/.325. His full season debut in 2000 did not go much better:

Alexis Rios 2000
Queens (A-) 218 .267 .309 .345 .131 22% .078 .050 11 50% .101
Hagerstown (A) 78 .230 .256 .297 .081 24% .067 .026 4 40% .179

He had a very poor walk rate, his Secondary Average was nonexistent due to a total lack of power and his inability to successfully steal bases, and he appeared overmatched in his short stay in Hagerstown. He was only 19 years old though, so there was really no reason to panic due to the disapointing campaign.

For some reason his 2001 statistics are missing from his Baseball Cube player card. Luckily I found some of the numbers in my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2004. Rios hit .263/.296/.354, with 25 walks against 59 whiffs. He only hit 2 homeruns, but did manage to hit 9 triples. His walk rate did not improve from his 2000 campaign, and considering his lack of power, that was his major issue. His SecA was a paltry .160, and his Isolated Power remained below .100, at .091.

His 2002 season brought some improvements to his game, as he finally started to hit the ball on a consistent basis. Granted he was still in Single A -- although now it was an A+ league -- but he was still only 21 years old.

Alexis Rios 2002
Dunedin (A+) 492 .305 .344 .408 .175 24% .103 .055 30 64% .112

There was no real improvement to his walk rate, and his strikeout rate was still twice as high, but his ISO finally cracked .100 and his SecA was mostly down due to poor base stealing (14/22). He only hit 3 homeruns, but he had 33 extra-base hits overall, and his slugging finally passed .400 due to the increase in batting average. These improvements were sustained and built upon in his 2003 jump to Double-A.

Alexis Rios 2003
New Haven (AA) 563 .352 .401 .521 .261 30% .169 .069 43 79% .151

There was almost a 2% jump in his BB/PA from his established production level, his stolen base success rate was finally in useful territory, he had 11 homeruns and 43 other XBH, and he managed an OBP over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500. Was he walking enough? Probably not for the tastes of most who read this site, but as BP 2004 says, "he took to the organization's philosophy of learning to identify your pitch and whack it, and saw his numbers spike while making the jump to Double-A". Essentially there was growth in Rios' swing and in his approach to hitting, and although that success did not immediately carry over to Triple-A Syracuse (.259/.292/.373 before his promotion to the majors) the Jays had to have been happy to finally see some signs of life out of their first round draft pick from 1999.

Rios was called up the majors during his struggles in 2004, and although he managed to keep his BB/PA at 6.7%, his K/PA was the highest of his career (18.3%) and his homerun power completely vanished. 2005 brought a return to the homerun power he had in Double-A, but his walk rate regressed once again, and he just was not producing effectively offensively. Baseball Prospectus 2005 had mixed feelings about Rios and his potential for the future:

He's a legitimate center fielder with an excellent arm, uses his speed well, and has shown some improvement in his command of the strike zone. However, he was rushed last year; he had a .292 OBP at Syracuse when he was promoted, and hit just four homers all year season. He isn't going to hit enough to play right field regularly, at least not in '05. He's on the cusp; he could become Devon White, or he could stagnate and end up as Juan Encarnacion.

In 2005 he certainly seemed to be going down the road to stagnation -- although lets be honest, he was still more useful than Encarnacion -- and from what I saw around the blogosphere no one thought too highly of him outside of Alpheus Chan at Bluebird Banter.

Luckily for Rios his glove was superb in his time in the majors. He is ranked seventh overall among right fielders from 2003-2005 with a +/- rating of +12 according to The Fielding Bible. Here is the report from that John Dewan gem, which I simply cannot recommend enough:

Rios is an excellent young defender, a five-tool player with outstanding range and speed and a strong, accurate arm suited for right field. Over his first two seasons his throwing arm ranked second best with a .432 Outfield Advance percentage on the three-year chart. The Jays would love to switch him to center field where he is a better offensive fit, but they have a Gold Glover in Vernon Wells entrenched there.

Rios was actually an above average right fielder due to his defensive skills, but it would be nice to add some offense to the picture, especially for a Jays' team that was average with the bat before this year's additions.

Baseball Prospectus 2006 did not seem to optimistic about Rios' ability to come into his own at the plate, although it did mention how he was still young and was valuable in the outfield defensively, or in centerfield. As Dewan stated though, Vernon Wells had the job in center, so Rios' bat would need to step up. His weighted mean PECOTA projection of .278/.322/.433 was actually a large jump in production, as he only had a .249 Equivalent Average in 2005, and the forecast for 2006 was an above league average .265. His ZiPS projection, calculated by Dan Szymborski, was even less optimistic, at .277/.326/.404 with 9 homeruns. The Bill James projections for 2006 were the most optimistic of the ones I've seen, with a .291/.344/.422 line.

Currently, Rios is outperforming any expectations set for him, with a .325/.377/.585 line, a .305 Equivalent Average, and a career high in homeruns already.

Rios Batted Ball Data 2004-2006
2004 20.5% 56.7% N/A 1.2% .355 .325
2005 19.5% 49.1% 8.3% 7.7% .314 .315
2006 21.1% 33.6% 5.0% 14.0% .350 .331

Now to look a little more in depth at his 2006 numbers. As you can see, his LD% is consistent with his career rates thus far; his HR/F has improved dramatically, and he appears to have cut down on the number of infield flies he hits by a few percentage points. His BABIP seems high, but it is not that far off from his Expected BABIP (LD% + .12) and it is consistent with previous numbers. The most significant difference in Rios' statistics is in his groundball rates. Last year he lowered his GB% a few points, and it most likely gained him a few homeruns. But the drop from 2005 to 2006 is immensely significant; a 15.5% drop in groundballs means a whole lot more flyballs, and if he is continuing to grow as a hitter as he appears to be -- namely, finding his pitch and "whacking it" -- then you can expect a great deal more extra-base hits and power to be on display.

Rios has slowed down in June, but the numbers he is putting up are still better than any from his previous seasons.

  • Month-by-Month Splits
  • APR: .362/.368/.725
  • MAY: .360/.413/.596
  • JUN: .244/.337/.451
Those June numbers may not look like much, but his OBP is almost 100 points higher than his average, and his ISO is .207, which would be some of the better numbers he has had. When you take his defense into account -- a Rate2 of 104 so far this year, as well as a 4.94 ZRate (derived from Zone Rating) -- he may finally be the valuable player the Jays saw when they drafted him out of highschool back in 1999. Luckily for Toronto, he is still only 25 years old, so they will have him for the near future, inexpensive and productive.

On Edit:Apparently Rios overhauled his swing in the offseason to make it shorter and more powerful, allowing him to pull the ball with more authority. This was in Sean McAdam's ESPN column that just happened to run on the same day as this. Good stuff, although I disagree with the sentence about Freddy Sanchez's power, and the fact that it hasn't come as of yet. Sanchez is a line drive hitter with no power potential anywhere on his track record, and he's a little old to make that sort of assumption. Still, good stuff on Rios and the others. And here is another Alex Rios piece on, from ESPNdeportes.

For previous player profiles, check out this link