Willy Adames: Breakout on the Rise?

I don’t think ever before has baseball seen so much talent at the shortstop position. It is so incredibly rich with power, speed, and fielding ability that it can become difficult for someone who is not viewed as one of the top-tier guys to stand out amongst the crowd. I believe one of those players that are ready to take the next step and really turn some heads is Tampa Bay Rays’ shortstop Willy Adames. Baseball’s #16 prospect in 2017, the top-ranked prospect in the Rays’ system, had a .254/.317/.418 slash line in his first full season in the major leagues. He hit 20 home runs and drove in 52 across 152 games. Now entering his age 24 season, Adames’ stats have left a lot more to be desired but there is reason to believe that he has the potential to break out into one of the league’s top shortstops.

After Adames joined the Rays in 2014 during the trade that sent David Price to Detroit, he quickly made a name for himself as one of the best shortstops throughout the minor leagues. In 2016, Adames batted .274 and hit a then career-best 11 home runs and 57 RBI for AA Montgomery. The campaign earned him a spot on the Rays’ 40-man roster. Consequently, he was selected to the Southern League All-Star team and represented team World in the All-Star Futures Game. Adames would be again selected as an All-Star the following season this time as a member of AAA Durham Bulls. In 2018, Adames finally made his MLB debut. He would bat .278 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI across 85 games.

One of Adames’ best attributes is his ability to put bat to ball. In 2019, he ranked 10th out of all shortstops when it came to sweet spot % and Barrels/PA %; he ranked ahead of shortstops such as Corey Seager and AL batting champion Tim Anderson. His ability to put good wood on the ball becomes very apparent when you look at his batting profile on balls he made contact with.

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As you can see, Adames mashes when he makes contact. His .320 BABIP ranked 10th among shortstops. Nobody questions Adames’ ability to hit the ball. His hard-hit percentage ranks as the 5th best shortstop in baseball according to FanGraphs, ahead of guys such as Lindor, Torres, Bogaerts and Javy Baez who all outperformed Adames in power numbers. Though, Willy prevailed hitting one of the longest home runs in baseball this year at 462 feet. The problem with Adames is the strikeouts. Adames’ 153 strikeouts landed himself inside the top 30 batters in all of baseball in that category. Fortunately, Adames was able to reduce his K-rate by a full 3% from 2018-19 while playing in nearly twice as many games.

Willy is a very rangy fielder, there’s no doubt about it. He ranked in the 84th percentile in outs above average and was able to pair that with an 81st percentile sprint speed. A quick fielder who saves outs at a near-elite rate; sounds pretty good to me. Range is a prerequisite when playing for Kevin Cash. In 2019, the Rays shifted more than any other team in baseball. It can become quite difficult for any young player to adjust to playing a position when you’re frequently defending multiple spots a game. Adames embraced the opportunity and played very well in the field. He had the position’s 5th best defensive runs saved (DRS) at 12 and put together a defensive wins above replacement of 2.1 in 2019.

When taking a closer look at his splits, some interesting trends started to appear. Adames hit a strong .304/.376/.530 in 77 games on the road last season. It is particularly his performance at home that is rather alarming. In 75 home games, Adames struggled with a .204/.253/.304, hitting 5 of his 20 home runs. There really is no clear explanation for this vast difference in performance, but it’s certainly a huge factor in why Adames didn’t have the breakout year that the Rays fans are craving. There is definitely room to grow should he find some success at home as well as improve his numbers versus lefties.

Adames did end the year on some a particularly high note. He was prolific in the month of September with a .317/.371/.540 slash line over the last 20 games of the year with five doubles, three home runs, and 10 RBI. In the American League Division Series, Adames had a ridiculous slash line of .385/.500/.983 hitting two home runs and one double as the Rays fell to the Houston Astros in five games.

Willy started this season the same way he ended last year in spring training. Off to a pretty solid start batting .364 he hit one home run across 12 games before baseball halted operations.

There is a lot to like about Adames’ game. He is one of those players that pop off the screen while watching highlights. He is an excellent fielder, possesses decent speed and while his statistics aren’t anything too special, he ranks right around the top ten when examining the underlying batting variables. Showing that he has the capability to become one of the better batters at his position. Willy won’t turn 25 years old until September of this year, so, arguably, we are still in the pre-stages of his prime years. Which is so exciting to think about after seeing some of the plays he has already made. One thing to keep watch of is how the role of Adames will change upon the arrival of baseball’s top prospect Wander Franco who is expected to join the Rays sometime late this year or next. For the time being, shortstop is Adames’ job to lose and I think he’s ready to turn some heads.