The Dodgers had a trio of celebrated offensive prospects in Tulsa for most of 2016, but it was a late comer to Double-A in Edwin Rios who took home the organization’s Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year honors. Rios bludgeoned his way through three levels, displaying the system’s top raw power tool and usable power not far off from the more famous prospect Cody Bellinger. Where Rios ultimately ends up defensively is just one of a few questions Rios has left to answer, but might be the most defining issue for Rios’ future with the big league club.
You don’t need to see Rios’ swing to see where his raw power comes from, you just need to look at him. Though listed at 6’3 and 220 lbs., Rios looks like he packs the bulk of his weight in his upper body, with powerful arms and a broad chest. Rios is just 22, but looked like a man among boys physically in the Texas League. His build is a bit tightly wound, but he maintains an athletic shape and did manage to spend the bulk of 2016 at third base.
Rios’ strength looks to be his primary asset in generating power, as his bat speed looks fringe average. Rios has a long swing and high finish, leaving him susceptible to both velocity and being fooled by off-speed. To his credit, Rios looks to pounce on mistakes and takes the most from his opportunities. His pitch recognition for a slugger-only type is good enough to tap in consistently to his power, though some aggressiveness limits his potential to provide on base production.
Because of his bat speed and plate approach, batting average will likely never be a major component of his offense. He did make adjustments after a slow start in Double-A to rebound in terms of making contact, and it does remain to be seen just how much Rios can adapt his offensive approach to more polished hitters to consistently play with plus game power.
It was at third base that Rios could utilize his other plus tool, his arm strength. Rios has more than enough arm for third base and is capable of sitting back on balls to make plays. His range at third base is not quite “body length” poor, but he’s not a quick mover at the position. For what it’s worth, he performed okay in primitive minor league defensive statistics. His hands are fine for either third or first, and he could likely hold his own for short spells at the position.
Ultimately, Rios may be in line for a position change if the Dodgers wish to get his bat in the lineup full time. Rios’ strong arm at third should serve him will in the outfield, but he’s not experienced in right field and may lack the range to be average at the position.
From the build, to the offensive profile, to the defensive home questions, Edwin Rios looks comparable to Mark Trumbo. Rios might have the edge on infield defense, but might need a team with an open DH spot or willing to take a risk on him in right field to get consistent at-bats for him at the major league level.
That might make it sound as if Rios has more value as a trade asset, but he’ll likely need a big offensive season at Double-A to ease concerns teams might have with his profile. Rios is not the first college slugger to club his way through the low minors, and many similar players before him have failed to make up for deficient bat speed and pitch recognition at the upper levels.
Additionally, the Dodgers have plenty of time to take a wait-and-see approach with Rios to find room for him in future plans. While Bellinger seems destined to replace Adrian Gonzalez at first base, there are no guarantees with prospects. Additionally, Rios could improve his quickness and footwork enough to stay long term at third and eventually follow Justin Turner at the hot corner.
In ranking Rios this high, I realize I’m taking a more optimistic approach to his long-term outlook. I believe Rios has earned this benefit given his on field success and his quick adaptability to the Texas League after initial struggles. Rios likely returns to Tulsa in 2017 and should primarily man third base, though it wouldn’t surprise me if he sees additional time in the outfield this year. Whether it’s third base or right field, Rios could eventually be a 30-plus home run hitter at the major league level, but a team will just have to accept the trade off of strikeouts and batting average.