Things have improved in Rays Land a bit over the last two days. With back-to-back wins (their first consecutive wins since August 1-3), the Rays have staunched the bleeding on a streak of 20 losses in 29 games, but there’s still plenty of worry when it comes to the chances of Tampa Bay getting playoff baseball this season.
We don’t have to go back that far to get a totally different vibe on the season. Let’s choose July 25 of this season. The Rays were within 2.5 games of the division-leading Red Sox, they were right there with the Yankees for the top wild card spot, and they were playing so well that the Rangers and Twins were in the early stages of becoming sellers at the deadline.
It was on this day that Boston Red Sox called up Rafael Devers. It was on this day that the Rays didn’t call up Willy Adames. Get your ovens ready for this hot take: The Red Sox calling up Devers and the Rays not calling up Adames has been the difference in the path the two teams have taken since then.
Since Devers has been called up, he has slashed .312/.373/.613 for a wRC+ of 151, and he has already endeared himself to the Boston (somewhat) Faithful. On the flip side, Adeiny Hechavarria has an OPS (.560) lower than Devers’ SLG, and Brad Miller has somehow been worse (.147/.289/.227 slash line since July 25). Daniel Robertson has just three hits in seven games in that time. (Tim Beckham has an OPS over 1.000 since then, but that’s a whole nother story.)
Now this is a bit of a false equivalency, of course. Devers is a corner infielder who displayed plenty of pop in the minor leagues. Miller and Hech are middle infielders who have hit as if someone swapped their wooden bats for bats made of wet napkins all season. But here’s the thing: the Rays have a top prospect of their very own who just so happens to call the middle infield home.
While Devers was the fourth-ranked prospect in baseball before his call-up (per MLB.com), Willy Adames wasn’t that far behind, at no. 18. Sure, Adames is just 21 years old, but Devers is just 20. Devers certainly seems to be handling the transition all right — just ask Aroldis Chapman.
And yes, I know Devers was tearing up the minors more than Adames. Devers had a 153 wRC+ at Double-A before making a quick pit stop in Triple-A where his wRC+ nearly reached 200 before he demanded a call-up to the majors. But it’s not as if Adames is struggling in the minors. His wRC+ of 120 in Triple-A this season is very strong, especially considering how much younger he is than the competition. Of course, his youth is a disadvantage he would once again face at the big league level, but he’d also have the added bonus of hitting a (almost certainly) juiced baseball. Plus, think of what a player like Francisco Lindor was able to do when given the responsibility of a call-up. Lindor had a wRC+ of 118 and two homers in 59 games in Triple-A two years ago before hitting 12 homers with a wRC+ of 126 in 99 games at the major league level. Prospect growth is not linear, and sometimes hitters will do just as well, if not better, in the majors than they were doing in the minors.
Even if Adames came up and struggled with the bat, the call-up would have been worth it.
For one, Adames is a plus defender. Brad Miller’s defense is the only thing that has been worse than his bat this season. His stone hands Colossus’ mitts look as softer than Sidney Crosby’s. Adames would be a massive upgrade even if he could just be a league average hitter.
Plus, and this is really the crux of this hot take because it’s not really definable by any sort of metric, the team would have gotten a much needed jolt from an Adames call-up. This is the no. 2 guy in the Rays system, the players know that. Devers’ call-up was a sign of intent from the Red Sox. Sure, you can say the fact that the team has gone 17-6 since his call-up isn’t all his doing (“he’s only been worth 0.8 fWAR!” they’ll shout), but guess what, that home run off Chapman was worth WAY more than the 0.2 WAR or whatever it came out to being worth in FanGraphs’ formula. I’m usually pretty impervious to narrative over metric, but sometimes it helps to take a step back and realize these are human men playing this sport and things like a 20-year-old super-prospect taking The Artist Formerly Known As The Best Closer In Baseball deep means a whole lot to a team making a playoff push.
If the Rays had called up Adames, who knows what would have actually happened? He could have struggled at the dish and made a few flubs in the field that would eventually stunt his growth. But he also could have taken off like Devers and Lindor and so many talented youngsters before him. All I know is that I just wish the Rays had made the move so we could at least know.