Written by: Danny Hacker
Follow him on Twitter: @theGREATdanny94
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW
It’s truly hard to gauge where some hitters and pitchers are headed after a whacky 2020 season but within some, there is the promise for a major breakout on the way. One of those players is Tampa Bay Rays Shortstop Willy Adames.
Adames was a J2 signing by the Detroit Tigers in 2012 and showed some major promise in 2014 slashing .271/.353/.429/.782 before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays along with Drew Smyly & Nick Franklin (from Seattle) in the three-team trade that sent David Price to Detroit. Adames then continued to ascend to becoming a top prospect in not just the Rays organization but in all of baseball. He proceeded to make his debut with the Rays in 2018 showing off the same tools he displayed in the minors as he hit .278/.348/.406/.754 in 323 Plate Appearances. He then regressed in 2019 while getting full-time at-bats before rebounding in 2020. Adames arguably had the best season of his young Major League career to this point, slashing .259/.332/.481/.813 equaling a 124 OPS+ in 205 Plate Appearances while hitting 8 home runs. That does not seem like it’s that noteworthy but there are some trends that have quietly show positive promises for Adames, possibly as soon as 2021.
When looking at Adames’ season numbers from a holistic standpoint, you will see that Adames’ Slugging Percentage has gone up each season (.406 in ’18, .418 in ’19, and .481 in ’20) despite the downgrading of BA, OBP, and OPS. With this, you can then look at the Batted Ball profile and see some correlation with this as Adames’ Groundball Percentage has gone down consistently each season (52.0 in ‘18, 47.4 in ‘19 and 45.0 in ‘20) with his Line Drive Percentage going up (19.4 in ‘18, 26.2 in ‘19 and 28.8 in ‘20) , displaying more “lift” with a progressively better launch angle each season (8.5 degrees, 10.8 degrees and 12.5 degrees respectively). Adames was well on way to breaking his career high in XBH (46 in 584 PA in ‘19) as he had 24 in 205 PA in ‘20 which would have set him on pace for 50+ and you, again, can see that in his increased Slugging Percentage each year.
Next, looking at Adames’ Savant pages you can see some interesting trends developing. The biggest one, to me, lies in his Hard Hit Percentage. In 2018, Adames had a 29.6% HHP in 2018 followed by a 6% increase in 2019 to 35.6%. It again increased by 4.9% in 2020 to 40.5%. That HHP was the same as Luis Robert and Anthony Rendon and higher than Javier Baez, Mike Moustakas, Luke Voit and Kyle Seager among many others. As a result of his HHP going up, his Barrel Percentage has also gone up consistently each year (6.6% in ‘18, 8.4% in ‘19 and 9.9% in ‘20). As Adames continues to hit the ball hard and create more barrels, he will create a higher exit velocity which has also consistently gone up the last three years (86.7 EV in ‘18, 88.5 EV in ‘19 and 88.8 EV in ‘20). What does all this ultimately mean? It means that because Adames is hitting the ball harder and higher, he will be able to fully tap into the hit tool many once evaluated as a potential plus one.
Another thing on Adames profile that pops out to me is the improvement on breaking and off speed pitches. In 2019, Adames had a BA/SLG of .135/.231 vs off speed pitches and .225/.370 vs breaking pitches. In 2020, Adames improved to a BA/SLG of .242/.455 vs off speed pitches and .260/.440 vs breaking pitches. Yes his BA on Fastball regressed from ‘19 to ‘20 (.291 to .265) but the SLG on Fastballs saw an improvement (.447 to .510) which is also a positive sign.
When looking at the profile, many will probably bring up the fact Adames had drastically poor plate discipline numbers in 2020 and that all of this is for naught if he can’t have good plate discipline. While I agree about the general point, in the case of Adames there’s a few things to make mention of. First, when Adames was making strides from 2018 to 2019, his Whiff% actually decreased by half a percent (27.7 to 27.2) and as a result so did his K% (29.4 to 26.2). Yes it ballooned to 36.1 and that is concerning however it’s also worth noting he does have a bit of a track record starting high before settling down as the season goes on. I believe that would have came down to more normal range if he had 550+ PA in a normal season.
Another thing to note about Adames’ plate discipline numbers is that his Zone Contact % increased from 2018 to 2019 (77.2% to 81.7%) while his Zone Swing % was almost a percent less (69.9% to 69.0%). In other words, Adames was starting to see the ball better in the zone. In 2020 his ZC% dropped to 68.8% while maintaining a pretty much identical ZS% (69.0 vs 69.1) but it’s also worth noting there were almost 4% less pitches thrown in the zone in 2020 vs the previous two years. I will be very interested to see how this works in another, hopefully more normal, season next year because I believe it’s due to that his plate discipline numbers were so wild in regards to strikeouts.
Throughout Adames’ career in both the majors and minors, he has been very good at walking as he has posted 9.5% or higher BB% in every season except 2019 (7.9%). He swings at a lot but he also takes just as much and as a result, his OBP is being bogged down in good part because of his BA. His walk percentage disputes another part of the “bad plate discipline” narrative but rather he just needs to continue to make more contact. In 2021, I expect Adames to have a 10+ BB% which should equal a .340-.350 OBP when it’s said and done as a result of the trend.
Despite the plate discipline concerns, I fully believe Willy Adames is on the cusp of a huge breakout due to the fact he is hitting the ball harder at a higher launch angle creating more barrels while also continuing to walk at a above average rate. Playing time is a definite concern with top prospect Wander Franco waiting in the wings and while I would love a trade of Adames to, say, the Reds because there is major playing time and at bats sitting there to be had or to the Twins who apparently are Shortstop hunting per a lot of reports, it seems unlikely at this point.
Regardless of where he starts Opening Day 2021, I truly believe Willy Adames is about to have a major coming out party and show off why he was once a highly regarded top prospect in all of baseball.