It is hard to believe this is only Willy Adames’ third Opening Day with the Tampa Bay Rays. The 22-year-old shortstop has become as popular among Rays fans as he was with trade rumors over the offseason.
In part, the middle of the infield is crowded on the organizational depth chart, especially with top prospect Wander Franco inching closer to the big leagues with an expected arrival this season.
Adames hit .259/.332/.481 with a .813 OPS in 205 plate appearances last season. He continued to show some signs of power in his bat with 15 doubles which ranked ninth in the American League. He had a major league leading 14 doubles through Sep 2 and then the bat quickly cooled with only one double in the final 18 games of the regular season.
With the glimpses of power came struggles at the plate and in the field. When he wasn’t hitting doubles he was striking out a lot with a 36.1% strikeout rate and team leading 74 strikeouts.
In addition to the offensive inconsistency there were some defensive struggles including being tied for the most errors in the AL with nine.
The ZiPS and Steamer (FanGraphs) projections indicate an expected slight decline in offensive performance from Adames that should keep the discussion about Franco’s eventual debut front and center.
- Steamer: .248/.328/.412 with a 100 wRC+ in 526 plate appearances.
- ZiPS: .242/.313/.402 with a 92 wRC+ in 593 plate appearances.
When he’s able to make contact, Adames does well. In 2020 he boasted a .515 wOBAcon, the 13th best such measure in baseball (and third on the Rays, behind Arozarena and Brosseau). Waiting for a pitch to hit will be key for Adames in 2021, especially on pitches outside if he is going to outperform the projections.
Since 2019, Adames is batting .189 on outside pitches, which is the fourth lowest in MLB in that timeframe.
Willy has spent the offseason working with a hitting consultant and at least towards the end of Spring Training it paid off with his first multi-home run performance since Double-A Montgomery, according to mlb.com.
“He’s swung the bat well,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Sometimes when you make some of these swing changes or adjustments that he’s trying to make, it just takes time. You can do all the work behind the scenes, but until you start getting in that rep of seeing live pitching, competing in the box, it doesn’t always click for everybody. But maybe this is a sign of Willy starting to click. He’s timed up.”
Willy brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm everywhere he goes. Time will tell if the additional work he has been putting in will result in improved performance and continued team success for the Rays.
“That’s huge for us. If we can get Willy doing what he did basically in the first half or most of the season last year, that’ll be a big add to our offense.”