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Rays’ Willy Adames is taking the moment and making it his

John Romano: Adames plays the same position as the Rays’ and baseball’s No. 1 prospect. But we’ll get to Wander Franco later.
Willy Adames (1), left, performs what has become his dugout ritual, taking the helmet of a Rays teammate after he scores a run. In this case it was Austin Meadows' after he came home on a Tommy Pham single in the fourth inning of the Rays' 10-3 victory over Houston Monday in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Oct. 10
Updated Oct. 11

HOUSTON — He is still a happening, a phenomenon, a can’t-miss prospect.

But maybe shortstop Wander Franco doesn’t need to be in such a hurry, after all.

That’s how good Willy Adames has been recently. The Rays current shortstop has turned Franco, the game’s No. 1 prospect, into a conversation for another day in Tampa Bay.

It has been more noticeable during the postseason, but the clues have been there for two months. Actually, all season if you’ve been watching closely.

“He’s really stepped it up,’’ said manager Kevin Cash. “It’s been awesome to sit and watch what he’s done briefly in a young career.’’

It began slowly. Almost imperceptibly. One day, Adames was a placeholder at shortstop and the next he was a budding star.

He was clearly a talent when he came up in late May of 2018 as a 22-year-old, but Adames always seemed less than he should be. He had pop at the plate, but struck out too much and had no sense of situational hitting. He had excellent range in the field, but had a terrible habit of misfiring on routine throws.

Adames was good enough to hold the position, but not special enough to make you think shortstop was solved in Tampa Bay.

“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,’’ said pitcher Blake Snell. “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 (Linares) all the time. I mean that dude is dedicated now.

“I would say when he got here he was just enjoying the moment and he finally learned how to take the moment and make it his. I think that’s the most special thing about him.’’

As the season grinds into its eighth month, the Rays are doing what they can to keep players fresh. Most workouts have been optional. Players can pick and choose when they want to take batting practice or just hit off a tee in the cage.

Not Adames. Not when it comes to fielding drills. He and Linares continue the same routine before every game. The coach throws a series of rubber balls and baseballs at Adames who begins by fielding them on his knees and with his bare hands and gradually moves into a fielding position.

When the Rays had infield practice before Games 4 and 5, Adames was the only starter who was on the field for every ground ball.

“His throws, of course, have been way more consistent,’’ said left fielder Tommy Pham. “His footwork’s better, his hands. Give a lot of credit to Rodney for working with him. He’s very underrated. Gold Glove-deserving.’’

He’s gone from being barely adequate at shortstop to being an elite defender. Based on a analysis, he was second only to the Angels’ Andrelton Simmons for runs saved defensively at shortstop in the American League in 2019.

“He’s playing with an all-time confidence right now,’’ Cash said. “Willy is 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.’’

If the glove began to improve in the spring, the bat has followed in the summer and fall. Since July 31, Adames has hit .299 with 10 home runs, including the postseason. Not coincidentally, the Rays are 38-20 during that stretch.

“This is what we play for, to come to the postseason. For me personally, it’s my first full year and to get to the postseason means a lot,’’ Adames said. “Tells me that we have a pretty good group in Tampa. We have a pretty good, bright future.’’

Not so long ago, the future at shortstop in Tampa Bay was clearly Franco. There was talk he could arrive in the majors late next season, and possibly be starting as a 20-year-old in 2021.

Now, there is more to consider. Do the Rays think about moving Adames to second or third base? Do they think about moving Franco to third? By 2021, Adames will be a year away from arbitration, so do the Rays think about trading him when his stock is high?

These are questions that don’t need to be answered for at least another year or two.

The good news is that Adames has forced his way into the conversation.

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.


  1. Tampa Bay Rays leftfielder Tommy Pham (29) takes a moment in the dugout after the Rays' 6-2 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Contract terms for every player currently on Tampa Bay’s roster.
  2. The Yankees' Gleyber Torres hits a home run off Astros starting pitcher Zack Greinke during the sixth inning in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. SUE OGROCKI  |  AP
    The 22-year-old homers and has five RBIs, the youngest AL player to drive in that many in a postseason game in major-league history.
  3. Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier (39), right, and shortstop Willy Adames (1) celebrate the Rays 10-3 win over the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times
    Rays Tales: Underdogs really do almost “shock the world,” and Kevin Cash deserves serious American League manager of the year consideration.
  4. Nationals starter Anibal Sanchez pitches during the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. MARK HUMPHREY  |  AP
    Starter Anibal Sanchez has a no-hitter through 7 2/3 innings before giving up a clean single to center.
  5. Rays catcher Travis d'Arnaud and starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow walk back to the dugout after the Astros score four runs in the first inning of Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Manager Kevin Cash says that wasn’t the main problem for the four-run first inning in Game 5 of the ALDS. It was the Astros’ hitters.
  6. The Tampa Bay Rays grounds crew works to remove the ALDS playoff logo along the first base line on the field at Tropicana Field on Friday. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
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  7. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, on left, along with Erik Neander, center, senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, and Chaim Bloom, senior vice president of baseball operations, address the media during a news conference at Tropicana Field on Friday. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    John Romano: And while they’re at it, find a consistent closer and a bat with some pop.
  8. Houston Astros players celebrate their 6-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Preparing for Rays steady steam of relievers was a significant challenge for Houston’s hitters.
  9. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow (20) reacts after giving up a hit to Houston Astros center fielder George Springer (4) in the first inning in Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Rays Journal: Did the Astros know what was coming during their four-run, first-inning explosion?
  10. Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi (26) walks from the field after striking out swinging to end the game against the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Houston. Houston Astros defeated the Rays 6-1. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    John Romano: How to think about a team that was everything Tampa Bay could ask for, except good enough Thursday night.