How painful it must be, to win 90 games in a perceived rebuilding season and still find yourself on the outside, looking in come Playoff time. The Tampa Bay Rays were inexplicably good, despite the fact that they were still in tank-mode well into the summer when they shipped their then-ace Chris Archer off to the Pirates.
Their newfound success has seen the Rays become surprising contenders this offseason, an unquestionably new territory for a franchise that is well-known for handing over their own assets and not pulling in new ones. But the Rays made smart moves all winter, whether it be buying low on aging-starter Charlie Morton or pulling in backstop Mike Zunnino on a team-friendly and controllable contract.
As always, Tampa’s home grown talent pool is something to look at with awe as they seem to pull together the perennial All-Potential roster of prospects. 2018 saw the breakout campaigns of Blake Snell and Joey Wendle, and in 2019 I’m pretty high on a few other young talents to break through the cracks. A pair of former top Pirates prospects, Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, still pack major upside and the playing time will undoubtedly be there for them to shine this season. I also think that guys like Tommy Pham, Jacob Faria and Matt Duffy with a little more big league experience could still potentially turn things up a notch and provide some fireworks for a ball club looking to stay relevant in 2019.
Ultimately though I think in a golden-era of shortstops, the Rays are about to see one of their own rise to the occasion. Willy Adames is in line for a lot of playing time in 2019, no longer being forced to split playing time with the likes of Adeiny Hechavarria up the middle in Tampa. More playing time means more opportunity, and for a guy who hit .278/.342/.416 in his rookie campaign, that’s definitely something that is going to excite some folks.
Adames is a very capable middle infielder, whose glove-work has been highly-touted since his early days as a prospect coming over from the Dominican Republic. Once considered a major question mark for the 21 year old, Adames’ bat has come alive and sparked legitimate intrigue from eyes around the baseball world.
More than anything, Willy Adames’ breakthrough campaign will have to come out of his own necessity. It’s one thing to perform for the betterment of your team, it’s a whole different ballgame when your own job is on the line however. Tampa Bays’ top prospect is Wander Franco, a wunderkind shortstop of just 17 years old. Despite his young age, he projects as a legitimate future star and someone the Rays are already salivating over. Scouting opinions vary on the timetable for his call up to the bigs, some say he’s a long-term play, hovering around a 2022 debut. Others however are far more insistent that we could see him crack the major league roster as early as 2020…at age 18.
Willy Adames needs to prove to the Tampa Bay organization that he’s as valuable as anyone on this roster right now and he belongs in the lineup for the foreseeable future. His defensive talents allow a lot of positional flexibility within the field and potentially even a move to the outfield if need be. But Adames needs to hit like a pro throughout 2018, for the Rays’ sake…and his own…