Whether it's the curse of the five-tool player being inflicted upon him, or the curse of Alex Rios being inflicted on others, ascribing the proper expectations upon the 31 year-old outfielder has always been a challenge.
Toronto was excited at how his tools and athleticism would age enough to sign him through 2014 when he was 27, but promptly looked to cut bait when he showed the proclivity to spend long vacations in mediocrity.
Similarly, Ozzie Guillen saw the player who could do a bit of everything, and played like the AL MVP for a month, and tried to use him to plug a persistent organizational hole in center field, hit out of the #3 slot, and steal 40 bases...all at the same time
Knowing that he's not particularly ideal to do either is hindsight, and accepting that about Rios has a lot to do with 2011, when he hit .227/.265/.348 with horrid center field defense. Whether his problems were failures of makeup, the result of discomfort, or simply the reality of Rios' struggles to maintain his approach at the plate for very long is hard to say.
In all cases, the reduction in responsibility has done wonders.
- Field: Moving to right has taken Rios out of a center field job he looked indecisive and lost in last year. Not only is he no longer directing traffic, he's no longer tasked with covering up the gaps in Carlos Quentin and Juan Pierre's range. With the very assertive--possibly even pushy--De Aza in center, Rios' job stays very simple, and he's become very aggressive on the balls in his zone.
- Bases: He's running a lot more than last season when he never reached base, but Rios' stolen bases (10 of 13) reflect the usage patterns of the rest of the team--occasional and well-timed for efficiency.
- Plate: It can only be speculated if starting the season in the #6 slot reduced the pressure on him, but crashing last season made him more open to instruction from Jeff Manto and dedicated to the idea of driving outer-half pitches to the opposite field...at least until he admittedly lost patience with the lack of power this method produced a month ago.
Rios has actually been on a tear since declaring he'd become more pull-happy, hitting .331 with 8 HR in 31 games, but that shouldn't change our conception of him as a player.
The 31 year-old is not going to become a star, but is having a year that could slide in smoothly beside his three-year prime in Toronto. Through 2006-08, he posted OPS' of .865, .852, and .798. This year he sits at .816. He's not going to Kansas City, but that's someone you can stick in a corner outfield slot and forget about for a while, which has a lot of value in a traditionally Konerko-centric attack
Rios has been far too hot and cold to ever declare him fixed, or newly consistent in his approach. Part of accepting what he can and cannot do might include acknowledging his mercurial nature, but he's weathered the first challenge of the season (a struggle to tap into his power to left field), adjusted without throwing himself off-balance, with a massive spike in his line-drive rate to indicate he's on the right path.