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Rays 2020 Season Preview: Willy Adames is pure joy

Willy Adames is an All-Star in the making

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

With his play on the field and his infectious joy off it, Willy Adames has become the face of a franchise that needed one after the Evan Longoria trade. And while “the Kid” still has room for growth (more on that shortly), he has already won us over with plays like this:

And this:

And with hugs like this:

2019 ALDS Game 4 - Houston Astros v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

And this:

Divisional Series - Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Three Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

And this:

Wild Card Round - Tampa Bay Rays v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A key acquisition in the David Price trade, Adames rose steadily through the Rays system, earning accolades at every level, until mid-2018, when Baseball America’s 19th best prospect was called up to the big club.

From there, Adames proceeded to put up a 110 wRC+ over 85 games during his rookie campaign, plainly putting on display his mature approach and the loose and easy swing that got scouts so excited during his rise.

He did struggle a bit on defense, however, as Fangraphs gave him a -5 Defensive Runs Saved and -17.3 UZR/150 in 600-plus innings at shortstop. Statcast was no kinder to him, giving him -6 Outs Above Average.

But any concerns about his defense were erased in 2019, when he put up a +12 DRS and a 2.5 UZR/150 to go with a +4 OAA. For a deep dive, our own Dominik Vega has a nice rundown on Willy’s improved defense here.

Or you can just look at this pretty gif from Dom’s piece.

Unfortunately, his bat didn’t keep pace, as his mild reverse splits of 2018 became glaring in 2019. He hit .292/.358/.458 against righties, but managed only a .181/.235/.341 against lefties. This was also coupled with a bizarre and unexpected home/road split that saw him put up a 137 wRC+ away from the Trop, but just a 53 wRC+ under the Dome.

These mitigating factors dragged down what could have been a great season at the plate to a slightly below league average bat at 97 wRC+.

The reason for the approximately average performance on offense was a sudden dip in results vs LHP:

This is not normal for a right handed hitter!

Part of the culprit for the drop in his offense was a lower walk rate against left handers. Should he rebound at all in the “hit ‘em where they ain’t” skill — and he should in a just universe — he will comfortably be an above average bat overall.

So it’s not hard to see the 24 year old putting it all together. He still has all the tools scouts drool over. He has the talent. He has the drive. And if he does put it all together — both glove and bat — he is an All-Star in waiting, and we can look forward to fun celebrations for years to come.