Washington’s Nationals placed veteran catcher René Rivera on the 10-Day IL on August 3rd, (retroactive to Aug. 2) with a right elbow contusion, but instead of calling up new backstop Keibert Ruiz, (the top prospect in the organization once he was acquired in the 4 for-2 trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers), they opted to call up a catcher they acquired from Toronto’s Blue Jays at the 2021 trade deadline in return for left-handed closer Brad Hand: Riley Adams.
“We wanted to get Riley up here, let Keibert play every day for now,” Nats’ manager Davey Martinez explained after he roster moves were announced.
“I like what Riley Adams has done, he’s got a lot of pop in his bat, so he’ll get an opportunity to split time here with [Tres] Barrera.
“He just showed up, I just had a conversation with him, seems like another good, fine young man, so looking forward to watching him play.”
Adams, the Nationals noted in a press release on the moves, “... was considered the best power hitter in Toronto’s Minor League system according to Baseball America,” where he had 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 this season and a .262/.363/.419 line in 286 games between 2017–2021, with 66 doubles, five triples, 28 home runs, 146 RBIs, 130 walks, and 153 runs scored over those four years.
“Pretty good power hitter, he’s a good catch-and-throw guy,” Martinez said, offering a scouting report on Adams.
“So, we’re going to sit down with him, we’ll sit down with him today. I know [Bullpen Coach Henry Blanco] is going to talk to him a lot today, let him go over some of our pitching staff.”
With two right-hand hitting catchers, both relatively young and inexperienced in the majors, with Barrera, 26, up to 23 big league games played before the start of this weekend’s series with the Braves, and Adams, 25, with 14 games on his resume after he made his MLB debut for the Jays this season, how is Martinez deciding when to use each of them?
“I’m just going to keep looking at matchups and stuff,” he said before the first of three in Atlanta.
“Barrera, like I said, Barrera has done well catching back there for us, he’s handled [Erick] Fedde well, he’ll catch him tonight. I’m still looking at some stuff on Riley Adams to play him tomorrow or maybe the next day, the day game, but yeah, I talked to them both, they’re both going to get their share of the opportunity of playing. I told Riley just be ready, but he’ll get a chance to play pretty often.”
And when will they bring Ruiz up? What does the club want to see for the catcher, who had played eight games for the Dodgers over the last two years, and has a .308/.377/.631 line in 54 games and 239 PAs between Triple-A Oklahoma in LA’s system and Triple-A Rochester in Washington’s organization, with 18 doubles and 17 home runs this season?
“So far he’s done really well,” Martinez told reporters.
“Like I said, we just want to get him acclimated down there and just let him play every day until we figure out when we want to bring him up here.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Nationals’ sell-off at the trade deadline, GM Mike Rizzo said that Ruiz was the main target of the trade with the Dodgers that sent Scherzer and Turner to LA in return for the catcher, starter Josiah Gray, (who’s already made one start as part of the Nats’ rotation), right-hander Gerardo Carillo (No. 17 on MLB’s prospect list for the Dodgers before the deal, No. 10 in the Nationals’ organization now), and outfielder Donovan Casey (No. 27 in the Nats’ system now).
“Not only did we get a very talented, impactful player,” in Ruiz, Rizzo said, “we got that at a position that we really needed it. It’s one of the key positions in all of baseball, and like when we acquired Wilson Ramos in a trade, you could see what that particular position had, and the impact that position can do for a baseball team, and I think that he was a focal point of what we were trying to do at the trade deadline, and we identified him, and he was the main cog that we were trying to get.”
What can we expect to see from the switch-hitting Ruiz when he does get called up?
“He’s awesome,” Josiah Gray said of his fellow former Dodgers’ prospect after making his first start for the Nationals.
“He’s really fun to throw to. As I’ve told some of the guys here that asked me about him, I think he’s hit for more power this year than he ever has before, from both sides of the plate, so he’s really exciting to watch. In Oklahoma City, he was barreling a ball, barreling two balls every game. So I’m really excited to see him get here when he gets here, and start throwing to him again and seeing him swing the bat, cause it’s fun when he’s on and he’s a guy that’s going to go out there and give his all.”
Personality-wise, Gray said, “He’s a little bit more quiet, but I think that fits right in to how I like it. I’m a little more quiet myself, so I’m really excited to see him in a Nationals uniform and performing and doing great things like I know he can.”
What will the Nationals do when Alex Avila (bilateral calf strains) and Rivera are ready to get back from their respective IL stints?