Rios builds on first All-Star trip for Blue Jays

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Sports,Will Reisman

Although Toronto — mainly due to a slew of pitching injuries — has regressed in disappointing fashion from last year’s second-place finish in the American League East, there has been one Blue Jay in particular who has not let this season’s adversity affect him — fourth-year pro Alex Rios.

Playing in the underexposed baseball market of Toronto, Rios has flown under the radar in right field, despite showing improvement in each season. After a slow start to 2007, the 26-year-old Alabama native appears to finally be coming into his own as one of the premier young talents in the league.

Rios had a coming-out party of sorts last year, hitting .302 with 17 homers and 82 RBIs in 128 games to earn a reserve spot on the American League All-Star team. But he had difficulty dealing with the lingering effects of a staph infection early this season, at one point seeing his average dip to a low mark of .256 on May 4.

However, Rios has erased all memories of his struggles by producing two months of the most sustained hitting in his young career. Picking his game up while fellow outfielder Vernon Wells struggled, Rios has again quietly assembled solid numbers across the board.

Rios leads the BlueJays in batting average (.293), home runs (15), RBIs (41), runs (51), stolen bases (six), and OPS (.870), making him one of the most coveted all-around players for any fantasy baseball owner.

The most marked improvement in Rios’ game has been his power. After hitting just 28 home runs in 387 career games entering this season, Rios should better that number this season alone (he is on pace for 36 homers). Adding to his impressive power display is his ability to knock in runners from his leadoff position.

What makes Rios so attractive on the fantasy market are two things: Versatility and newfound durability. After missing large parts of the second half of last season with the aforementioned staph infection, he has sat out just one of the Blue Jays’ games this year.

WHO’S HOT?

» Corey Hart, OF, Brewers

» Mike Lamb, IF, Astros

» Brian Bannister, SP, Royals

» Jose Bautista, 3B, Pirates

» Garrett Atkins, 3B, Rockies

WHO’S NOT?

» Jason Schmidt, SP, Dodgers

» Casey Kotchman, 1B, Angels

» Randy Johnson, SP, Diamondbacks

» Matt Morris, SP, Giants

» Ryan Doumit, OF-C, Pirates

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