Yacksel Rios Has Continued To Grow In His Major League Time
Yacksel Rios has been in the Phillies system for a long time for a player dancing on the outside of being an actual prospect. The Phillies drafted him at 17 out of a Puerto Rican high school in 2011. He didn’t reach full season ball until 2014, and was still starting sometimes all the way through 2016. He spent some time as projectable loose armed work in progress, some time as a hard thrower with no clue what he was doing, and then finally last year things seemed to come together. With Reading, Rios was sitting 93-97 and flashing a good slider. A mid season injury robbed him of time and some velocity. The Phillies still saw fit to promote him to the majors in September rather than lose him in the fall to minor league free agency. He was ok for a rookie reliever, sitting more 92-96 and having trouble with his command.
The Phillies were all set to send him to Lehigh Valley to work on his command and breaking ball, then Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, and Mark Leiter Jr. all got hurt and Rios opened the year with the Phillies instead. Rios has not been world beating with the Phillies this year, instead he is posting a 2.57 ERA with a below average strikeout rate and improving, but not great walk rate. In a small sample size he is doing a much better job at keeping the ball in the park and on the ground. For a 24 year old at the beginning of their career, it is a perfectly fine start. On April 24 in the rain, Rios had his worst outing of the year, giving up 3 earned runs in 1.1 innings to Arizona, in a game the Phillies would lose 8 to 4. That night his average fastball velocity was at 94.0. It wasn’t his lowest of the year, but it was close. Rios, now fully healthy had been averaging close to 95 mph on his fastball this year, an almost 1 mph jump on his debut. Then something fun started to happen.
He threw harder two night later, and then did the same thing, another two nights later, before continuing the trend on back to back nights. On May 1 against the Marlins, Rios topped out at 99. Now he has a single game spike early in the year, and it is not uncommon for small spikes to show up, but there seems to be something progressing about this. If we go to his release point (vertical and horizontal), we see his slider and fastball release locations converge. This would seem to indicate that Rios is starting to find more consistency and repeatability in his delivery. Additionally, having post of his pitches coming from the same point should help Rios with deception.
The normal followup questions is “How does this change Rios’ results?”. The answer is we don’t know yet. Rios in his 4 most recent appearances has pitched 5.2 innings and given up 3 hits and 1 run, while walking 2 with 5 strikeouts. That isn’t dominant, but it also isn’t a massive sample size. More than anything it is something to continue to monitor.
Also worth monitoring is 9 outlier pitches for Rios. Those 9 pitches, representing under 4% of the pitches Rios has thrown this year, are classified by Brooks Baseball as splitters. The pitch appears to be thrown in the 83-85 mph range, which is slower than the splitters thrown by Hector Neris and Luis Garcia. It also does not appear to be a finished pitch for Rios. It has some drop, but not as much as the other splitter, and not every splitter has dropped. It is not a pitch he is throwing often and it is not a good pitch, however it is interesting because adding a splitter is what resurrected Luis Garcia’s career.
Even with his improvements, Rios is probably the 5th best right handed pitcher in the Phillies bullpen, and Seranthony Dominguez and Pat Neshek are on their way. However, at just 24 years old, Rios’ future with the Phillies is not joined to just the 2018 season. If he can continue to grow, Rios could be a long term piece for the Phillies bullpen.