Nobody knew what to expect from Alex Rios when the Texas Rangers acquired him from the Chicago White Sox last August.
He had been a two-time All-Star with the Blue Jays, signed a long-term deal with them in 2008, but the predicted stardom for him never came to fruition. He went to the White Sox on a waiver claim in 2009, had a few good seasons but then drew the ire of manager Robin Ventura for not hustling on the base paths last summer.
That didn’t deter the Rangers’ interest, as they needed to fill the void left by then-suspended Nelson Cruz. It couldn’t have worked out better for either side.
Playing on a contender rejuvenated Rios, who became a pleasant surprise for the Rangers on the field and in the clubhouse. He could bat anywhere in the lineup. He could play the outfield and had deceptive speed on the base paths by stealing a career-high 42 bases at age 32.
“He’s really fast, man,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “He doesn’t look that fast, but he’s super fast with those long strides.”
There’s another little known side to Rios. He is aiming to read 99 books in the next couple years.
Rios has already read a 288-page book this spring and is on his second book titled Thinkertoys. The 99-book goal comes from a website by Josh Kaufman that lists the 99 best business books that can help people earn their “Personal MBA.”
“Reading books is better than watching TV,” Rios said. “I’m trying to get into that habit and it’s something that I’m looking forward to doing more.”
Rios enjoys reading a variety of books from motivational to fiction to architecture. It’s certainly an easier hobby to pursue during the season than trying to play the piano. Rios tried that and it didn’t last long.
“The piano requires a lot of time and I couldn’t put enough into it,” Rios said. “But we have time at the hotels and stuff to read. But during the season it’s tough to have any hobbies because baseball takes a lot of time. You get into a routine for every day, every game.”
Rios said going to a contending team gave him an added push. He played right field for all 47 games after his acquisition, batting .280 with 26 runs, 26 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.
Rios was caught stealing only once with the Rangers. At 6-foot-5, Rios appears to glide on the base paths.
“It looks like that because his legs are so long,” base-running coach Gary Pettis said. “A shorter guy has shorter legs so his legs hit the ground more frequently. Rios might need only five strides when a shorter guy needs six or seven.”
Pettis also called Rios “a very solid outfielder.”
Offensively, Rios is versatile. He split most of his at-bats between the three- and six-holes with the Rangers and has driven in more than 80 runs in three of the past four seasons.
The only thing missing for Rios is a playoff appearance. He has played in 1,455 career games without a postseason berth, the third-most among active players behind Adam Dunn and Vernon Wells.
“[Senior special scouting assistant] Don Welke made a comment last year that Alex hadn’t really been on a contending team in his career and thought he would thrive in that type of environment,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “And that’s kind of what we saw.”
Rios felt playoff-like intensity in the Rangers’ Game 163 against the Rays last season, and has also played in meaningful World Baseball Classic Games for Puerto Rico. But he remains in search of that first true postseason experience. He is signed through this season and could stay with Texas in 2015 as the team holds a $13.5 million option for 2015.
“It’s good to play on a team where they want to win,” Rios said. “That means a lot to us players and you can see it the way they handle business over here.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760