The case for Alex Rios: Why ex-Blue Jay deserves more acclaim

Voice of the Toronto Blue Jays, Buck Martinez joins The Jeff Blair show to offer his take on the future of Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada and whether he see's him on the team next season.

We live in an age where fans value prospects as much, if not more, than actual MLB players. Look no further than the near-mythical status that Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguers Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette have already attained.

Long before that promising duo came along, a strikingly gifted outfielder named Alex Rios was a premier prospect adored and anticipated by the Blue Jays’ faithful.

Rios, who possessed size and five-tool potential that made scouts drool, was selected by Toronto in the first round (19th overall) of the 1999 MLB draft. The American-born, Puerto Rican-raised kid was supposed to reach great heights with the Blue Jays and develop into a superstar.

He fell below those expectations, though, and is looked upon by some as a player who didn’t completely fulfill his massive talent and draft pedigree. His muddled place in franchise lore is underscored in our 40 in 40: Greatest Blue Jays ranking tool, where the current user-generated consensus places Rios at No. 54.

That is tragically low. Based on his numbers, Rios should be much higher on the list.

Watch “40 in 40: Greatest Blue Jays” on Sunday, Aug. 27 at 4:00 p.m. ET following the Blue Jays-Twins game on Sportsnet.

Granted, numbers don’t tell the full story. Rios’s career in Toronto will always be marred by the June 2009 video of him apparently brushing off a child’s autograph request before swearing repeatedly at another fan. The ugly incident, which occurred as he was leaving a team charity event, garnered a ton of media attention. Rios apologized for the mistake, and in no way should it efface his legacy as a Blue Jay.

Two months later, the struggling outfielder was claimed off waivers by the Chicago White Sox, who assumed the entirety of a massive contract that still owed him roughly $60 million.

“We like the player,” then Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said at the time, “but it’s just a situation where the contract for us… it enables us to do different things.”

It was an abrupt end to Rios’s five-and-a-half-year tenure in Toronto and, coupled with the sour taste left by his actions in the video, overshadowed contributions that stand up surprisingly well in the franchise’s record books.

Where Rios stands in Blue Jays history    
Stat Total Franchise rank
Triples 36 5 (Tied with Roberto Alomar)
Stolen bases 112 8
Batting average .285 8
WAR (pos. player) 20.3 12
Doubles 195 13
Runs 451 15 (Tied with Alomar)
Hits 875 17

This data is enough to warrant a place for Rios among the top 40 players in team history. And in some cases, he outclasses big names that Blue Jays fans hold near and dear.

For example, his wins above replacement in a Toronto uniform (20.3) ranks ahead of Shannon Stewart (18.6), Shawn Green (13.1) and Joe Carter (8.3) — all players with similar service periods with the Blue Jays.

The knock on Rios was that he never developed the type of consistent power he seemed destined for, but from 2005-08 he put up a .289/.338/.469 slash line, while averaging 16 home runs, 36 doubles, 76 RBI, 86 runs and 20 stolen bases per season.

His run of success wasn’t extremely lengthy, but those are the stats of a dynamic, multi-faceted player. Which is exactly what Rios was.

Where do you think Alex Rios ranks among the 40 greatest Blue Jays of all time? Have your say by clicking here.

Not to be forgotten is that Rios is one of only 10 Blue Jays to ever appear in the Home Run Derby. In 2007, during arguably his finest season, he put on a power display at AT&T Park in San Francisco, but narrowly lost the event to Vladimir Guerrero Sr.

Guerrero Jr. and Bichette may one day flourish into superstars at Rogers Centre. However, the trajectory of a prospect can be tough to predict.

And truth be told, if they ultimately end up with stats like those belonging to Rios, it shouldn’t be considered failure.

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