If you’ve watched any of the Dodgers intrasquad games, you probably saw Edwin Rios hit a home run at some point. He has three of them so far, most on the team during this abbreviated summer camp.
What was an open question during spring training seems like a near certainty now: Rios is going to be on the Dodgers’ opening day roster.
“He’s made a lot of strides for me in the last year and a half, physically, mechanically, both offensively and defensively. Even as we were going to break with 26, he was a real big part of the conversation,” manager Dave Roberts said on a Zoom call Monday. “Now you talk about the expanded roster, the defense continuing to get better, the at-bat quality. I’m really proud of Edwin, and I expect him to make an impact for us.”
After the Cactus League in Arizona was canceled in March, during which Rios hit .296 (8-for-27) with a home run and a double, Rios and his wife eventually made their way back home to Florida.
“I went back home and figured, I could put in work or just sit on my couch and wait to see what happened,” Rios said Monday. “I was busting my butt, just trying to be ready for when this time came.”
Being in Florida brought Rios closer to his dad, Edwin Rios, Sr., who played professionally in Puerto Rico and, according to the Miami Herald in 2018, “He tried out once for the Montreal Expos but injured his hamstrings while running the 60-yard dash.”
“I tried to take BP, but it didn’t really work out,” the younger Rios explained. “It was a lot of my father and I in the backyard with a net, hitting off a tee everyday. There was a lot of father-son bonding, a lot of listening to him and getting advice.”
Rios was drafted by the Dodgers in the sixth-round in 2015, out of Florida International, and hit .270/.340/.575 with 31 home runs in 104 games in Triple-A Oklahoma City last year. He impressed in limited duty in his three major league stints in 2019, hitting .277/.393/.617 with four home runs in 56 plate appearances, and split time between first and third base in both the majors and minors.
He was also used 17 times as a pinch-hitter with the Dodgers, hitting two home runs and a double, and walked three times. The role was new for Rios.
“With pinch-hitting, you have to be more locked in, because you might only have that one AB in a game,” Rios said Monday. “You have to be more specific with things. It helped me when I got sent back down to OKC, because now I was doing that every at-bat.”
When the Dodgers optioned Rios back to Triple-A in July, he hit 11 home runs in 22 games and got called back up. When he was sent down again for the final two weeks of August before major rosters expanded in September, Rios slugged six more homers in 11 games with Oklahoma City.
“Last year showed me a lot. He’s a big guy, he has long levers,” Roberts said last week. “But for him to come off the bench and take a quality big league at-bat, take a walk, hit a ball hard, showed me a lot as far as being a potential role player at this time. A lot of upside there.”
That upside had Rios in the conversation during the spring to be a part of the Dodgers’ 26-man opening day roster, had the season started on time. Under the original 2020 rules, teams could only carry a maximum of 13 pitchers on a 26-man active roster. That left room for 13 position players, and for the Dodgers under normal circumstances basically had 12 locks — or 11, if you didn’t think Gavin Lux was going to start the season in the majors — plus either Matt Beaty or Rios as the final piece of the offense.
But these are not normal circumstances.
The active roster limit for the first two weeks of the season is 30 players, and Roberts said Monday that most of the extra spots will be for pitching, with maybe one added position player. That means 14 position players.
The Dodgers only have 18 position players on their 40-man roster, and two of them — outfielder A.J. Pollock and catcher Keibert Ruiz — haven’t yet reported to camp, for reasons undisclosed by the team. Even with the possibility of a wild card like speedster Terrance Gore making the team, Rios still has an excellent chance to make the roster, since he’s pretty clearly ahead of Luke Raley, Zach McKinstry, and DJ Peters on the totem pole.
“I’m going to have to perform to be up here with the guys, trying to show coaching staff and my teammates day in and day out that I’m ready to stay up here and contribute,” Rios said.
So far, so good.