Riley Adams, the Washington Nationals noted in a press release on the trade with Toronto’s Blue Jays that brought the catcher to D.C. this past July, “... was considered the best power hitter in Toronto’s Minor League system according to Baseball America.” Before the deal, he’d put up a .239 AVG, six doubles, a triple, seven homers, 17 RBIs, 16 walks, and 20 runs in 35 games for Triple-A Buffalo in the Blue Jays’ system in 2021, and a .262/.363/.419 line over 286 games between 2017–2021, with 66 doubles, five triples, 28 home runs, 146 RBIs, 130 walks, and a total of 153 runs scored over those four years.
Adams played in just one game at Triple-A Rochester in the Nationals’ system before the 25-year-old backstop was called up to the majors again, after having debuted in the big leagues with the Jays earlier in the season.
“He’s got a lot of pop his bat,” manager Davey Martinez said after the catcher joined his new club in early August, offering a brief scouting report on the receiver.
“Pretty good power hitter, he’s a good catch-and-throw guy.”
Three games into his time with the Nationals, Adams came up big with a go-ahead, top-of-the ninth, 2-run home run against the Braves in Atlanta, and he talked after that game with reporters on a Zoom call about getting comfortable in a new organization.
“This is my first time being traded to a new team and a new organization,” the Jays’ 2017 3rd Round pick explained, “... so it’s different, there’s a lot of new faces and new people, and it definitely takes a little bit of adjustment, but it’s cool to have moments like this to help this team and do our part.”
“Been working a lot on my swing,” he added of his focus after getting called up to the major leagues again, “working on some things to try to work up in the big leagues, and felt pretty good in that moment, and I kind of blacked out a little bit after I hit it, so it was pretty cool.”
His manager said that night it was nice to see the hard work Adams had been putting in pay off.
“He’s been working, he’s been here, he’s learning our pitchers,” Davey Martinez told reporters.
“One thing I always tell him, I said, ‘Hey, catching is a tough thing because we really want you to learn our pitchers, you got to catch and call games first.’ For me, hitting with catchers is just a bonus. And but he understands that, but for him to come through like that — look, we know he had that kind of power, and for him to come through like that in a big moment, it was huge. So hopefully that lifted him up and he can continue to swing the bat. I thought he swung the bat really well today. He hit a ground ball to second base and stayed on it, his swing has looked a lot better. He had a really great at bat and walked, and that’s something that we talked about as well, hey, taking your walks, swinging at balls in the strike zone, but yet be aggressive, and he got a pitch up where he could handle it and he smoked it.”
Adams talked about his approach at the plate later that month, after he homered again in a three-hit game against his former team.
”I think in general, my hitting approach is to all fields, take what the pitcher gives me and not try to do too much with it,” Adams told reporters. “So I’ve been working a lot recently about simplifying everything, and giving myself as much time to see the ball, so that was pretty much it, there’s not a big science or any special formula, it’s just I’m just trying to simplify things and hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
Offensively, he said, the Nationals were stressing getting ready early when they talked to the catcher.
“That’s been one of the biggest things that Davey’s been preaching. And obviously working with [now-former hitting coach] Kevin Long too and the rest of the hitting coaches and everybody, just giving myself as much time as possible is the biggest thing, and Davey loves to talk about getting that foot down and at the end of the day you can never get that foot down too early ... so giving myself as much time as possible is the most important part.”
As he stressed at the time, he was trying to build on the things that went well for him as he continued to learn new pitchers, and implement the things the Nationals wanted to see him focus on at and behind the plate.
“You always try to build on things like that and carry things over. There’s a lot of things that — I’m still working on my swing, there’s still plenty of things I’m trying to work on and get to, and so, it’s a constant process every single day, trying to get better, and you know, I feel like if I can make some strides daily, just a little bit better every day, then I’ll be in a very good place, so just trying to build off that and carry it into tomorrow.”
In 19 games and 12 starts with the Nationals in August, Adams was 15 for 44 (.341/.442/.568) with four doubles, two home runs, four walks, and 15 Ks in 52 plate appearances.
In early September, the Nationals called up another catcher acquired at the trade deadline, Keibert Ruiz, who got the bulk of the starts down the stretch. Adams talked shortly after he and Ruiz started effectively sharing the duties about working with the 23-year-old backstop who came to the nation’s capital as one of four prospects in the deal that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the LA Dodgers.
“It’s been great,” Adams said. “It’s fun here with him and obviously he was with the Dodgers, and kind of comparing notes from what the Dodgers did. I’ll talk with him about what the Blue Jays did, and what we’re trying to work on with the Nats, and how we’re attacking hitters, how we’re working with our pitching staff and it’s kind of fun just to bounce ideas of each other, and ... having Alex [Avila] there too is a huge help because he’s obviously been there and he’s got a lot more time than us and a lot more knowledge, so as much as we can learn, I think that’s the biggest thing and that’s hopefully what we’re trying to carry into next year.”
In 16 games and eight starts in September, Adams went just 4 for 27 (.148/.395/.296) with two doubles, a triple, nine walks, and 13 Ks in just 38 PAs as the club tried to get a feel for the catcher who’s expected to be the No. 1 backstop in D.C. in 2022 (and beyond), though his manager said they got a good look at what the former Jays’ catcher had to offer.
“He’s going to get an opportunity to play, play quite a bit,” Martinez said in late September.
“As you know,” he added, “... this day and age, a catcher that catches every day, they need days off. So next year coming to Spring Training, [Adams] needs to be ready, he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to catch in Spring Training and then we’ll see where he’s at.”
Summing up Adams’ time with the team, Martinez said, “he’s been good. He’s been really working hard with [bullpen and catching coach] Henry [Blanco] on his catching, and working with K-Long and Six [assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler] on his hitting, so he gets an opportunity to go out there ... the other day he came in and pinch hit and worked a really good at-bat and got a walk. He took some really close pitches, but we know that about him, he’s got a good eye as well up there and we like that about him.”
Adams finished his two-month run with the Nationals with a .268/.422/.465 line, six doubles, two home runs, 13 walks, and 28 Ks in 35 games, 20 starts, and 90 PAs. Will Adams be No. 2 in Washington in 2022 behind Ruiz? Will the club pick up a veteran backstop to pair with the former Ruiz, or go with Ruiz and Adams at a position they’ve had veterans in over the last few seasons?