Inside Ríos' swing changes that could unlock 'big power numbers'

March 19th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- There was a day earlier this spring when boredom got the best of . The Cubs had a night game, Ríos' family was not in town at the time and he could only count down the minutes until work for so long.

"He was in here at like 1 o'clock just hitting off the tee," Cubs manager David Ross said. "He just likes to be here working on his craft."

The Cubs are hoping to have unearthed a massive bargain in Ríos, who signed a one-year contract worth $1 million with the club early in Spring Training. He boasts the kind of left-handed power that could immediately impact Chicago's lineup, but Ríos has yet to fully tap into that type of potential.

The Dodgers' depth and Ríos' recent history of injury led to limited opportunity with Los Angeles, which non-tendered the slugger over the offseason. With the North Siders, Ríos is getting a chance to carve out a role as an option for first base, third base and designated hitter.

"I'm excited," Ríos said prior to Sunday's 5-2 win over the Padres. "It's one of those things as a kid you dream of -- just to be able to get a [lot] of at-bats in the big leagues and stuff like that. For me, I'm just excited. We have a great group here. I'm excited to win."

The work ethic described by Ross also came into play over the offseason.

Ríos came up with a plan to focus on getting the weight transfer of his swing started more with a focus on his back hip. The idea was to find a better way to time up his stride for improved pitch recognition, allowing him to identify and attack all varieties of pitches.

What happened in the process was Ríos developed a more distinct leg kick, which he used in his first handful of Cactus League games for Chicago. Ríos found that, while the idea was sound, the feeling he had in cage work and batting practice was not translating to games.

"When it comes to hitting, I kind of sometimes dive in too deep," said Ríos, who added that the Cubs' hitting group has stressed simplifying things, while using data and analytics as a secondary tool for feedback.

Ríos went to work with Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly and assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington on reducing the kick and reverting back to a more subtle toe tap for timing. In the process, they worked to keep the same weight-transfer tweak Ríos focused on over the winter months.

"The leg kick was just very inconsistent," Ríos said. "So I kind of just got it to a spot where I was still getting into my back hip, but without having a leg kick, and being a little softer with my front side.

"And that kind of just opened up a lot of things and just made me see the ball. And when you're seeing the ball a lot longer, you're able to make a decision and not [freely] swinging."

After going 0-for-7 with five strikeouts in his first three spring games, Ríos has gone 6-for-24 in the batter's box with three homers, one triple, two walks and six strikeouts in his last 10 games. He launched one of those homers against the Padres on March 3, when he started to make the adjustment.

"Man, I think Edwin's been one of the more impressive guys in camp," Ross said. "Looking at who he was coming into camp, the adjustments he made for the San Diego game over there, and the at-bats he's had since then, has been really impressive.

"He's worked some walks, gotten some deep counts; he's hit for power. The outs he has made are really deep fly balls in big parks. There have been a lot of barrels, loud noises."

Ríos made plenty of noise in his bursts of playing time with the Dodgers, launching 20 homers in 260 at-bats in the big leagues across the '19-22 seasons. He averaged one homer per 13 at-bats in that small sample of MLB experience. For perspective, Sammy Sosa averaged 12.8 at-bats per homer in his career with the Cubs.

Last year, Ríos had a career-high 92 plate appearances for the Dodgers, but was slowed by a right hamstring injury. He dealt with other setbacks in previous years. So for all the power and potential, Ríos has yet to enjoy the runway of health or opportunity to prove himself over a longer period of time.

He may get that chance with the Cubs.

"He is a guy that is on the radar," Ross said. "With a chunk of at-bats, he could put up some real big power numbers and really help us out."