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Willy Adames is the new face of Rays baseball

His power, his defense, and his joy have propelled Rays playoff run.

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Willy Adames is a guy whose talent and presence have been noted from his earliest professional days. As Rays fans we’ve gotten to see him emerge as a key part of a playoff bound lineup this year (see our earlier coverage of Adames here and here).

While his offensive numbers for 2019 are not eye-popping — his wRC+ of 97 is a tick down from 2018 — he has improved his defense. He has also been a key contributor in the push for the Wild Card and the postseason.

His pivotal role — literally — in one of the best defensive plays of the post season has been lauded across baseball:

He’s also emerged as a true “face of the franchise;” his roles as cheerleader, spark plug and defensive quarterback have become clear as we watch him on the field and in the dugout.

We could probably do an entire series with nothing but Willy Adames celebratory photos.

Divisional Series - Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Four Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

When Rays players cross home plate, they are greeted by Adames — who typically steals their helmet after a few handshakes — before the manager Kevin Cash (as seen in the picture at the top of this article!).

And now, thanks to the extra media exposure that comes with postseason play, we have a chance to hear what others say about him.

Kevin Cash certainly appreciates what Adames brings:

... he’s really stepped it up. It’s been awesome to sit and watch what he’s done briefly in a young career.Two sides of it, defensively we were comfortable, thought that he could play shortstop. Wasn’t sure if he was going to be elite level, championship caliber shortstop. He certainly is. The player gets all the credit.

I do give Rodney Linares a lot of credit for the work he’s put in. He’s given Willy a routine, and they stick by that routine day-in and day-out.We heard coming up through the Minor Leagues, Willy kind of always rose up: The brighter the lights, the better he played. We’re certainly seeing that now.

But he’s playing with an all-time confidence right now. He’s had some ups and downs throughout the season. He seemed to really have gotten hot in this postseason. But he’s been a lot of fun to watch.

And we talk about Willy, he’s one of those guys that have that “it” factor. He carries himself really, really well in the clubhouse. He carries himself really, really well on the field. You can’t knock the smile off his face. And his No. 1 priority is winning.

Playing in left field behind him almost every day, Tommy Pham recognizes Adames’s improvements made on defense made throughout the year:

I mean, from last year to this year, it looks like his throws, of course, have been way more consistent. His footwork’s better, his hands. Give a lot of credit to Rodney for working with him throughout the season, and myself.

But he’s very underrated. I think the analytics favor Willy too as far as the shortstop in the AL that saved the most runs. So, you know, he’s Gold Glove deserving.

Blake Snell, with his usual bluntness, appreciates how far Adames has come as well:

... I can honestly say last year I thought Willy -- honestly I thought he was probably going to go to second base because his throws were pretty bad all the time. And fielding-wise he was just okay. But he can make the spectacular play here and there.

And then he came to Spring Training and he looked pretty good. I still had my doubts. And then to see what he did throughout the season and then every day, I mean every day this man takes ground balls, and he wants more, and he wants Cash to hit them harder. He’s working with Rodney all the time. I mean that dude is dedicated now. His routine is so good and so good with what he’s doing. And then to see how it’s translating on the field and how he is hitting. His whole game has turned around just because he wanted it that much. Would say when he got here he was just enjoying the moment and he finally learned how to make take the moment and make it his. I think that’s the most special thing about him. Now he can enjoy the game, but he knows what he has to do the best him he can be. He’s grown probably the most I’ve seen out of anyone.

That this 24 year old is now a team leader was very much in evidence as the Rays struggled to close out their do-or-die fourth ALDS game on Tuesday. The Astros had brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning.

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Snell was called to the mound for a very rare relief appearance. After getting the ball from his manager, Snell exchanged a few words with his catcher, suddenly the young shortstop bounded to the mound, put an arm around Snell’s shoulder and spoke to him briefly.

What did Adames say?

Snell proceeded to get the important last two outs, and the Rays will play the Astros in Game 5 tonight, large in part to Willy Adames.

He’s a rising star in baseball, and this is his moment.