Baseball

After rough start, this ex-FIU standout is one step from major leagues

In 2015, Florida International University infielder Edwin Rios (28) plays against East Carolina University at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, Coral Gables.
In 2015, Florida International University infielder Edwin Rios (28) plays against East Carolina University at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, Coral Gables. ImageReflex

Third baseman Edwin Rios fielded a ground ball, set his feet and threw wildly to first base.

Then he misfired again … and again.

Three consecutive ground balls, three consecutive errors for Rios. After the third errant toss, the coach at Osceola High School in the Orlando area had seen enough, pulling Rios from the game right then and there.

“It was embarrassing,” said Rios, remembering back to his freshman year of high school. “I didn’t think I was going to be a baseball player for long.”

A decade later, Rios is happy to be wrong about that last part. The former Florida International University standout, now 24, is playing Triple-A ball for the Oklahoma City Dodgers (part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization) — just one step away from reaching his major-league dream.

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Former Florida International University standout Edwin Rios, now 24, is playing Triple-A ball for the Oklahoma City Dodgers (part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization), just one step away from reaching his major-league dream. Oklahoma City Dodgers

MLB.com ranks Rios — a left-handed hitter with what scouts consider elite power — the Dodgers’ No. 11 overall prospect and No. 1 among corner infielders. Baseball America ranks him 12th among Dodgers prospects.

“He has electric hands and excellent timing,” according to a Baseball America scouting report. “He makes consistent and hard contact with power to all fields.”

Rios was the Dodgers’ sixth-round pick in 2015, signing for $222,500. He blasted 27 homers in his first full year in the minors (2016) and slugged 24 home runs last year while splitting time between Double A and Triple A.

There are no former FIU players in the majors, but Rios hopes to change that between now and September, when rosters are allowed to expand from 25 to 40.

“He deserves a shot,” FIU coach Mervyl Melendez said. “I think he should’ve been called up last year.”

Rios, though, won’t let that perceived snub get him down.

A native of Puerto Rico, he moved with his family to Orlando at age 5. He had his struggles early on, failing to make “two or three” travel teams and going undrafted out of high school.

Rios accepted a scholarship offer to play for FIU and then-coach Turtle Thomas, spurning Melendez, who at that time was at Bethune-Cookman.

At FIU, Rios was an immediate success, starting at shortstop as a freshman and leading the team in batting average (.332), RBI (52) and walks (26). He also hit nine homers and 20 doubles.

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In 2014, Florida International University infielder Edwin Rios (28) plays against Rutgers University. Richard Lewis ImageReflex

He slumped as a sophomore, hitting .296 with just two homers and 38 RBI while starting all 56 games.

That summer, while playing in the prestigious Cape Cod League, Rios required shoulder surgery, which could have been a significant setback. Instead, Rios came back from surgery in just five months and did not miss a game in the 2015 season.

He hit .314 with 18 homers — just one fewer than the national lead — and led FIU in RBI (56), on-base percentage (.421) and OPS (.1013).

Those numbers helped convince the Dodgers to draft him, but there was more adversity for Rios to overcome. After graduating high school at 185 pounds, Rios had let his weight balloon to 250, and the Dodgers took action.

“They sent me to ‘fat camp’ for a whole month,” Rios said. “They didn’t call it fat camp, but that’s what it was — they put me on a huge diet, and I woke up every morning for running and lifting.

“I lost 20 pounds in one month. It was an incredible transition, and now I’m at the perfect weight (225 pounds on a 6-3 frame).”

With his weight under control, Rios’ career began to soar. This past March, he was invited to major-league spring training for the first time, and he belted a tape-measure home run over the batter’s eye in center field, a shot that likely traveled about 450 feet.

Recently, his favorite athlete — the NBA’s LeBron James — signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. Rios would love to get called up to Los Angeles as well, but the Dodgers have two All-Stars — Justin Turner at third base and Cody Bellinger at first base — blocking his path to the majors.

There are other issues as well. Rios’ speed is considered well below average. And while he has a strong arm, his fielding is also considered below average.

Rios has addressed his fielding by working with former shortstop and baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin for the past two off-seasons. Marlins third baseman Martin Prado has also mentored Rios during those workouts.

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Former Florida International University standout Edwin Rios, now 24, is playing Triple-A ball for the Oklahoma City Dodgers — just one step away from reaching his major-league dream. Oklahoma City Dodgers

The biggest mentor for Rios, however, has been his father, Edwin Sr., who played pro ball in Puerto Rico as a catcher, first baseman and third baseman. He tried out once for the Montreal Expos but injured his hamstrings while running the 60-yard dash.

Now it’s up to his son to carry forth that major-league dream, and a new obstacle surfaced this spring as Rios — normally very durable — missed the first two months of the season due to an oblique injury.

He is healthy now, and he is trying not to ponder his major-league future.

“It can eat you up, the more you think about it,” Rios said.

If Rios does get called up, it will be a point of pride for the FIU baseball program, which has three other of its former players in the high minors at the moment: first baseman Rudy Flores in Double A for the Arizona Diamondbacks, catcher Aramis Garcia in Double A for the San Francisco Giants and reliever Mike Franco in Triple A for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rios would love to get there first, becoming the first ex-FIU player in the majors since Brad Eldred pitched for the Detroit Tigers in 2012. FIU has only had one major-league All-Star in program history, Mike Lowell.

“I loved every moment I had at FIU,” said Rios, who still visits his old college campus once or twice a year. “Any light I can bring to FIU would be awesome.”

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