Expectations were understandably high when Willy Adames was first called up to the big leagues. He was the main target for the Rays in 2014’s trade of David Price to the Detroit Tigers. At that time, Adames was an 18 year old in Low-A hitting .269/.346/.428 for a 122 wRC+.
As Adames progressed through the Rays’ system, he consistently faced older competition. He rose quickly up prospect lists, and building hype and excitement for the future of the Rays.
Adames made his MLB debut on May 22, 2018 against the toughest opponent: Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox. After years of excitement, the future of the Rays was here, and his first hit was one to remember:
The hype was real.
Adames, who the Rays wanted to have regular playing time, would go back to Durham after that series, and we fans wouldn’t see him again until June 11th against Toronto. This time around though, Adames’ star didn’t shine as bright as it had before.
In 95 plate appearances Adames slashed .216/.263/.341 for a wRC+ of 65. He was striking out 35% of the time and only walking 6.3%. He only had four games with more than one hit, and he never had more than two hits in a game.
#Rays option INF Willy Adames to Triple-A Durham; recall RHP Chih-Wei Hu from Triple-A.— MLBRosterMoves (@MLBRosterMoves) July 12, 2018
Adames was struggling, and the infield was crowded, with Adeinny Hechavarria, Daniel Robertson, Matt Duffy, and Joey Wendle. The Rays sent him back down once more, to get him regular at bats as he worked through the slump.
Adames, much like Snell last year, took the demotion well, used the time in Durham to reset.
Since then, and with Hechavarria traded to Pittsburg to give a full-time opening at shortstop, the Rays rising star has raked.
Adames’s Break Out
One of the reasons for Adames’s breakout is his increased patience at the plate, which has helped him put more balls in play, but has not significantly raised his walks rate. He’s decreased his strikeout percentage by almost 10%, but is still swinging the bat.
Adames is being much more selective with the pitches he chooses to drive, especially with pitches outside the zone! He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone (O-Swing%), but he’s making contact on more of the balls that he does go after (O-Contact%), indicating some level of selectivity in his aggression. Adames also seems to be seeing pitches in the zone (Z-Swing%) better, as evidenced by the fact that he’s swinging at more of those pitches. He’s making in-zone contact (Z-Swing%) at about the same rate.
The overall result is that Adames is squaring up the ball more, with 37.5% of his batted balls being hit hard. That has given us moments like this:
Side note: Adames and Bauers are the American League's best bromance.
Adames’s new approach has rebuilt his confidence at the plate, and has rebuilt the hype for Rays fans.
This is a small sample size, and there are still things he can improve on, such as his walk rate, which is currently lower than his worst year in the minors (9.7%). On the one hand, major league pitchers are better able to throw strikes when they need to, but that total may still improve as he adjusts to the pitching at this level, and possibly becomes a feared bat in a talented Rays lineup.
The road to stardom has just begun.