Alexis Israel Rios | RF | 2004-2009
The fun of doing this is the ones that surprise you, Rios I figured, would be closer to the bottom of the list, but he had some excellent seasons, helped by a great glove in the outfield. He is one of those who I would have moved back a few spots, but I decided how I was doing this beforehand, and this is where he landed. I think I/we expected more from Rios (and likely the teams he played on).
Alex Rios was born February 18, 1981, in Coffee, Alabama but moved to Puerto Rico when he was three months old. I had to look; Coffee is a town of about 50,000 (now), approximately 40,000 then (surprisingly little growth in 40 years). The Blue Jays drafted Alex in the 1st round of the 1999 amateur draft (19th overall) out of high school in Puerto Rico. Josh Hamilton was the first pick that year.
Rios rose steadily through the Jays farm system showing a decent batting average on the way but not much power or much of an eye at the plate. A big guy (6’5”), you’d have thought he would have been able to hit more than 11 home runs in a season in the minors. Before the 2004 season, he was #6 on Baseball American’s top 100 prospects list.
Alex was called up to the Jays on May 26, 2004, when the Jays decided to move Reed Johnson to left to platoon with Frank Catalanotto. Alex played right field almost every day the rest of the season. He didn’t do badly, hitting .286/.338/.383 with only 1 home run and an OPS+ of 85. I wasn’t impressed, figuring a corner outfielder should have power, and the potential didn’t seem to be there. He did steal 15 bases, but I didn’t see him as a star without the on-base ability to be a lead-off guy. Rios did show off a good arm, finishing 4th in the AL with 11 assists. And he had excellent range. Alex finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting. Bobby Crosby won it. Of the four that finished above him, only Zack Greinke is someone you might consider trading Rios. In 2005 he spent the full season with the Jays. Most of his numbers fell off from his rookie season except for home runs which jumped to 10. He hit just .262/.306/.397. With only 28 walks, he looked even less like a corner outfielder. He didn’t even steal bases as well, stealing 14 but getting caught 9 times.
Before the start of the 2005 season, Rios played in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico. The Jays play was to platoon Alex in right field with Eric Hinske, but Rios started hot and took the full-time job. He had 15 home runs by early June and made the All-Star team. Unfortunately, Rios didn’t get to play in the game as Alex picked up a staph infection in his leg, which landed him in hospital and cost him a month of the season. When he came returned to the lineup, the power disappeared.
Despite the infection, he had a great season, setting career highs in hits (136), doubles (33), home runs (17), RBI (82), walks (35, yeah, he didn’t like to walk), batting average (.302), on-base (.349) and slugging average (.516). And with his great defense, he finally showed he could be a good corner outfielder.
2007 showed that 2006 wasn’t a fluke setting new career highs in games (161), runs (114), homers (24), RBI (85), doubles (43), and walks (55). And made the All-Star team again and took part in the Home Run Derby, he had the most home runs in the contest, but Vladimir Guerrero Sr. beat him out in the final round. Leading off a bunch early in the season, he hit four lead-off home runs. And he won the Fielding Bible Award as the best right fielder in the majors.
His home run count was going up each season. 1, 10, 17, 24....can you guess the next number in this sequence? If you said 15, you win. I was hoping 2008 would be the year Rios became a superstar, but it didn’t happen. He had a good season batting .291/.337/.461, but his home run count dropped to 15. He did hit doubles, setting a career-high of 47, and stealing bases, setting a career-high of 32.
Before the 2008 season, Rios signed a six-year contract extension for $64 million with an option for a 7th year. It looked like he would be with the Jays for a long time.
It didn’t work out that way. By early August, Rios was hitting .260/.316/.415. Not terrible, but not what the Jays expected when they signed him to that big contract. The team put him on revocable waivers. That isn’t unusual. After the trade deadline, players had to clear waivers before the team could trade them. A lot of players go on waivers.
The White Sox put in a claim for Rios. The Jays had three options. Work out a trade with the White Sox. Pull him back off waivers. Let the White Sox take him. When they couldn’t work out a deal, they let him (and his contract) go to the White Sox. At the time, I wrote:
He can be irritating. There moments he doesn’t appear to have his head in the game, which, if he was hitting 30+ homers, we’d likely laugh off. Then there are bizarre statements to the press, saying ‘he wouldn’t change his daughter’s diapers’ or ‘he doesn’t set goals at the start of the season’ just come off wrong and give up the impression he is self-centered at best. He also gives the impression, from the outside at least, that he isn’t very teachable
I get the feeling that if he had one of the old-style managers like Billy Martin or Earl Weaver, he’d be dead by now, or at very least doctors would have the unenviable task of trying to remove Martin’s cowboy boot from his butt. I think the guy needs a kick occasionally, and we don’t know that Cito doesn’t do that, behind closed doors. Cito isn’t the type to brag about it.
Rios would continue to have an irritatingly inconsistent career. He would play six more seasons, hitting .273/.311/.423, with 85 home runs and 136 steals. Rios was on the 2015 Royals, who beat us in the ALCS (and went on to win the World Series). He hit .368/.368/.526 with a home run, 3 RBI, and a steal against us. As a Blue Jay, he hit .285/.335/.451 with 81 home runs and 112 steals in 809 games in six seasons.
If I wasn’t making this list off the numbers, I wouldn’t have Rios this high. He always seemed to be a disappointment, but I don’t know that itis his fault or just because I set my hopes too high. It likely doesn’t help that the Blue Jays teams he played on were disappointments also.
Part of why he wasn’t well thought of was his personality. Fairly or not, he was considered selfish. And, of course, there was the incident with the autograph seeker.
In reality, he had a good MLB career, 12 seasons, 1691 games with a .277/.321/.434 line, 169 home runs, and 253 steals. Baseball Reference has him putting up a 27.3 WAR, 20.4 of that with the Jays.
Alex Rios place among Blue Jay batting leaders:
bWAR: 12th, 20.4
Defensive WAR: 11th, 5.8
Batting Average (>2000 PA): 10th, .285
On Base % (>2000 PA): 23rd, .335
Slugging Average (>2000 PA): 17th, .451 (tied with Roberto Alomar
OPS (>2000 PA): 22nd, .786
Games 23rd, 809
At Bats: 21st, 3071
Runs: 15th, 451 (also tied with Roberto Alomar)
Hits: 17th, 875
Doubles: 13th, 195
Triples: 5th, 36 (once again tied with Roberto)
Home Runs: 24th, 81
RBI: 17th, 395
Walks: 29th, 224
Stolen Bases 8th, 112