Toronto Blue Jays
Position: OF Height: 6-5 Weight: 180 Born: 2/18/81 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Alexis Rios was Toronto's first round pick in the 1999 draft, out of high school in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. At the time, this was a controversial selection. Most observers felt that the Jays picked Rios to save money; the majority of clubs saw him as a second or third round talent. Rios' initial pro performance was marginal; he hit .268 in two seasons of short-season ball, but hit just one home run, and showed shaky strike zone judgment. A relatively weak 2001 campaign in the Sally League added to the doubts. But Rios made significant progress in 2002, then emerged with a stellar season in Double-A in '03. He is now regarded as one of the best outfield prospects in the game.
Rios is a solid athlete. He has filled his body out, and is now lanky, lean and strong, rather than thin and wiry. His speed is above-average, which has a positive impact both on the bases and in the field, although he may slow down some with age. Rios has plus bat speed, and has refined his swing considerably. He still needs to improve his plate discipline, but it is better than it was a couple of years ago. He'll never be a walk machine, but he's a long way from being a strikeout-prone swing-from-the-heels guy. He makes good contact, and the ball jumps off his bat. The biggest question right now is how much power he'll develop. Some see him turning into a 40-home run slugger in the Juan Gonzalez mode, while others think he'll settle into the 15-20 home run range, though with a high batting average. He's definitely toolsy, and it looks like he's developing skills as well.
Double-A wasn't much of a challenge for Rios, as he put up his best set of professional numbers. He hit over .400 in both April and August, and was especially hot in the last month, driving in 28 runs and drawing 10 of his 39 walks. He was also over .300 in May and June; his weakest month was July, when he hit just .291. Rios hit well against both left-handers and right-handers in '03. His MLE comes out to about .310/.360/.460, quite impressive for a 22-year old.
Rios has had no major injury problems, though nagging wrist, thumb, and finger injuries cost him playing time in 2002. His low-body-fat build is the kind often vulnerable to muscle pulls and strains.
What to expect
Given Toronto's emphasis on baseball skills and strike zone judgment, Rios still has work to do. He'll likely head to Triple-A in '04, putting the finishing touches on his offensive game. Assuming '03 was not some sort of weird fluke, Rios should emerge as a multi-tasking offensive contributor sometime late in '04. A normal growth curve could make him a star player, although the exact form his career will take (batting average? home runs?) remains to be seen.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.