Toronto Blue Jays 2017 top prospects: #19, RHP Francisco Rios

Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World pitcher Francisco Rios (Toronto Blue Jays) throws a pitch in the fourth inning during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World pitcher Francisco Rios (Toronto Blue Jays) throws a pitch in the fourth inning during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Francisco Rios was one of the Blue Jays’ breakout prospects of 2016

It took a little patience, but Francisco Rios officially cashed in on his upside for the Blue Jays in 2016.

This was Rios’ first year in full-season ball and his fourth in the organization after being signed out of Mexico in 2012. Rios was not a headlining name in that international class for the Blue Jays, but the 21-year-old now represents an above-average combination of polish and potential.

Standing six-foot-one, 180 pounds, Rios is more Marco Estrada than Aaron Sanchez on the mound. His frame has not hurt his fastball, however, and with some development on his breaking pitches, the right-hander should have no physical limitations.

Rios opened the season as part of Lansing’s star-studded rotation, also featuring Sean Reid-Foley, Angel Perdomo, and Jon Harris.

Name: Francisco Rios
Position: RHP        Age: 21
Height: 6’1”    Age: 180 lbs.
Throws: Right            Bats: Right
Acquired: International FA (2012, Mexico)

The Blue Jays advanced Rios to high-A Dunedin after just six starts. Toronto was relatively cautious with their assignments for prospects in 2016 and did not move them through levels as aggressively as the past regime, so the vote of confidence in Rios is noteworthy and a testament to his prospect maturity.

In Lansing, Rios struck out 43 batters in just 30.0 innings, holding opponents to a .508 OPS (it’s difficult to credit luck, too, as opposing hitters had a BABIP of .319 in those games). Rios’ last start with the Lugnuts saw him throw 5.2 innings of shutout ball against Quad Cities, striking out 10 and allowing just one hit.

Rios made 15 starts for the Dunedin Blue Jays after his promotion, then rounded out the season with a string of five relief appearances to help manage his innings. He did have a few below-average starts before that bullpen shift, including allowing seven earned runs in 4.1 innings on July 22nd, so it’s possible that fatigue was at play. In his first 11 Dunedin starts before those later outings, he posted a 2.27 ERA.

These numbers were a complete departure from his previous stats:

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Rios’ ability to pound the zone showed in 2016 with just 2.2 walks per nine innings across the two levels. With this tool and his ability to force weak contact, Rios could be a pitcher that is better and better with more innings.

He’ll likely have the opportunity to improve upon his 120.2 innings next season, but many scouting reports peg Rios as a future reliever.

While Rios does fit the neat-and-tidy profile of a starter-turned-reliever, he’s earned the opportunity to defy that. This will rely heavily on his ability to develop not just his slider, which has above-average potential, but also one of his changeup or curveball.

Working in Rios’ favour is that he has a fairly simple, repeatable delivery. Away from his arm and shoulder, the rest of Rios’ body stays very consistent from pitch to pitch. Not only does this help him deliver better pitches and work deeper into games, it will also help to create deception on his pitches.

His first three pro seasons make it easy to question this, but Rios does have a relatively high floor as a prospect. If he stalls out as a starter while moving through the upper-minors, it’s still possible he can max out his velocity as a fastball-slider reliever. A report from Baseball Prospectus listed his fastball as sitting 89-92 while touching 93 earlier this season. That fastball also has some nice sinking/tailing action, causing hitters to miss the heart of the ball.

Rios is still on a tier behind Reid-Foley, Greene, Harris, Zeuch, Maese, and Perdomo in the Jays’ system, but has an opportunity to finish the season with double-A New Hampshire. One possibility is that Rios mirrors the development path of his 2016 season — this time opening in Dunedin and moving quickly up the ladder if he succeeds.

Now that Rios has done it once, doing it a second time will establish him higher in the rankings and bring some legitimacy to his 2016 stats. He may even be worthy of a higher spot right now, but the collective rise of talent around him has Rios at number 19 entering the year. Keep a close eye on how Rios is used, and how his velocity holds up, late in the season.

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