ST. PETERSBURG — As much as the Rays talk about, focus on, and invest time and millions into acquiring and developing top position player prospects, they too often seem to be on a treadmill where they never get to the finish line.
Willy Adames is positioned to be different.
The 21-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic is the next great thing in the Rays organization and has provided good reasons to think he, unlike some before him, truly can live up to the hype.
"His attitude, his aptitude, his work ethic — all the intangibles make Willy Adames stand out along with his skill," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "His ability to field a ground ball, to throw a baseball, to hit a baseball makes him a very unique player."
Adames is at the Trop this week for the Rays' winter development camp, though he's targeted for his first experience at the Triple-A level, where he will face the challenge of playing every day against older, more experienced opponents. A brief October-November stint with Licey in the Dominican league, hitting .167 in 10 games, reinforced that improvement is needed.
Take it as a good sign that Adames knows that.
"It's like a dream coming true," he said. "I want to be here. I think I'm getting close. But I've got to keep working harder and harder."
With Drew Smyly traded and Nick Franklin looking like no more than a part-time infielder/outfielder/offseason Uber driver, Adames stands as the Rays' principal return for the July 2014 David Price trade to Detroit.
Everything about the way he has played — hitting .274 with 11 homers, 57 RBIs and an .802 OPS while flashing leather at Double-A Montgomery last year — and carried himself — emerging as a natural leader with an incandescent smile, upbeat attitude and commitment to learning English — has been encouraging.
"He's like the Pied Piper," Lukevics said. "He relishes that, he thrives on that, being the guy. It's uncanny for that age."
Starter Chris Archer was impressed enough after meeting Adames last spring to arrange for him to fly to Tampa last week and train with him at Bradenton's IMG Academy, learning speed and agility drills.
"I could just see something in him, like in his eyes," Archer said. "And when you get to know him, you can see it, too, just this love and passion for the game. And I feel like that's been missing a little. It inspired me, and I said, 'You know what, I want to help this kid however I can.' "
Montgomery teammates also rave.
Justin Williams: "Doesn't matter if he's 0-for-5 or 5-for-5, he's the same guy. … He was like our spark plug. He comes to the clubhouse excited to be there, and it kind of rubs off on everyone else."
Brent Honeywell: "He's one of a kind. I'd take him any day of the week into a foxhole with me. He leaves it out on the field. … What stands out for me is what you see on the field is what you get in the clubhouse, and what you get in the clubhouse is what you get in the street. And that goes a long way."
Jake Bauers: "Great guy, great teammate. He's always able to put a smile on your face. A lighthearted kid who takes his job serious. … And I think he's going to be a superstar."
Adames is aware of all the kind words, as well as the hype throughout the industry that he not only will make it but be a franchise-type player. It's heady stuff for a 21-year-old, but he seems to have a handle on that, too.
"It's not pressure," he said. "It makes you keep doing what you're doing, makes you feel like you're doing good things."
The Rays, as is their style, won't rush Adames, which is part of the reason they traded for Matt Duffy last season, figuring he can play short in the interim, so this column might be written again next spring.
But when Adames does make it, he has the chance to be a real hit.
"Absolutely," Lukevics said. "I think we all feel that way. … He just has it."
Time staff photographer Will Vragovic contributed to this report.