Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 3/23/12
Rios

Karl de Vries is a reporter and web producer for Newsday. He’s a lifelong Mets fan and fantasy fanatic who operates RotoDiamond, a fantasy baseball blog. If you’ve never heard of RotoDiamond, we highly suggest adding it to your fantasy repertoire. Due to the high quality of Karl’s work, we’ve asked him to contribute posts to Baseball Professor. It took some begging and pleading (kidding!) but Karl agreed to share his wisdom with us. You can email him at karl.rotodiamond@gmail.com with questions, comments or lewd pictures, though we wouldn’t recommend the latter.

Poor Alex Rios.

OK, so I don’t really mean that. Everyone should be so lucky as to get paid millions of dollars to play a children’s game for a living, and besides, the little I know about Rios makes me think he’s not the most cool-headed guy in the sport.

Still, he had a rough go of it in 2011. He finished with a .227/.265/.348 line, halved his RBI total from 2010 and posted just 11 steals, all while his walk rate fell to a career-worst 4.7 percent.

The result? A 31-year-old outfielder capable of putting up a 20-20 season has fallen to a 216 ADP this year — and he’s not even being drafted in 15 percent of mixed leagues.

As someone who used to bet on Rios to emerge as an elite outfielder, I’m not here to vouch for him as some kind of obligated sponsor. But I’d still be willing to give him a chance as a No. 3 starter if I could unearth enough evidence that he’s ready to return to his All-Star upside.

Was he hurt? Rios still appeared in 145 games and made 570 plate appearances, so if something was ailing him, it didn’t stop him from showing up for work. Instead, he was probably just a victim of some bad luck, judging by his .237 BABIP and 7 percent HR/FB rate.

He was also miscast by manager Ozzie Guillen as a power hitter. In posting one of the best seasons of his career two years ago, Rios was used almost exclusively out of the 3-hole, by far the spot where he’s spent the most time over his career. Contrast that with last year, when he made only 27 plate appearances out of that spot in the order, instead shuttling between the fifth and sixth spots.

So it’s probably not a bad thing that new skipper Robin Ventura has gone ahead and is plugging Rios back into his old spot in the order. It might also help that Ventura is shifting Rios from center back to his old position in right field.

Obviously, a manager — and new hitting coach — can only do so much, as a player’s desire to improve is ultimately what determines success. That’s why it’s encouraging that Rios, who arrived at camp four days ahead of schedule, is so far keeping an open mind about adjusting his swing.

It also stands to reason that the ChiSox will put up a better lineup this year. For one thing, Adam Dunn can only improve over this horrific 2011 season, I’m a fan of Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza and hope always springs eternal for Gordon Beckham to rekindle the magic that made him one of the hottest young players entering the 2010 season.

And even if I wasn’t optimistic, Rios’ track record — you know, the one where he averaged .284 with 19 home runs, 24 steals and 81 RBIs from 2006 to 2010 — suggests 2011 was an exception to the norm. And even with last year’s misery, Rios posted by far the best strikeout rate of his career and best line drive rate since 2008.

Sure, I’d prefer Rios to be off to a faster start this spring, but considering the meaninglessness of March’s numbers, I’m not going to fret. Instead, I’m going to reach out here and say Rios is worth drafting in all leagues — especially those populated with near-sighted owners — as a solid No. 3 outfielder with significant upside.

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