Riley Adams, who turned 26 in June, was part of the Washington Nationals’ roster on Opening Day 2022, and he stayed in the majors until early July, though he didn’t play much over the first three months (27 games, 24 starts between April 9th and June 28th).
When the club optioned the backstop, (who was acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline in 2021, straight up for reliever Brad Hand), to Triple-A Rochester, big league manager Davey Martinez explained the thinking.
“For Riley,” Martinez said of the catcher who had a .192/.284/.321 line at the plate in 27 games and 88 plate appearances at the time, “it was tough, but it was about getting him consistent at-bats, getting him down there [to Triple-A], letting him catch every day, also play a little bit of first base, but it was more about just getting him consistent at-bats every day down there.”
Playing behind No. 1 catcher Keibert Ruiz, the starts and at-bats were few and far between in the majors, so the Nationals sent Adams down to get him reps at and behind the plate.
“I want to get him going, so it’s not the last we’ve seen of Riley. I think a lot of — Riley has done really well. He’s made some big, big improvements catching, and that’s good, but it’s more about getting him out there every day catching, getting at-bats every single day, and then seeing where we’re at here in a few weeks.”
The plan, apparently, was to get Adams some reps at first base too, which his manager said would benefit both the player and potentially the big league club going forward.
“We want him to learn how to play another position,” Martinez said. “We have — it’s hard to get him at-bats when you have a switch-hitting catcher in Keibert. My efforts were to try to get him out there at least 2-3 times a week, but more so than that for him, I value what he does, I value the person he is, and like I said, it’s all about Riley Adams and getting him at-bats. It always stinks when you get sent down, we get that, but I think moving forward for his future here, we want to get him going.”
And they were trying to get him going, his manager said at the time, because they have high hopes for Adams.
“I believe this guy can hit 15-20 home runs, and catch the way he catches, and if he can play first base in a moment that we can put him out there and he can catch the ball...” Martinez stopped there, on the possibilities it presents for the future.
“So, it will be good for us and also be good for him in his career,” he added.
The manager also said they were talking about getting Adams more at-bats for a while at that point.
“And so at this particular moment I thought it would be best to get him down there, get him some at-bats, getting him going before we lose too much of the season,” Martinez explained.
Adams dealt with a wrist injury while at Triple-A, so he ended up playing just two games at first, while catching 22 times, and serving as the DH six times before he was called back up in late August.
“The plan was to get him down there and get him 150 at-bats or so,” Martinez said.
“We did do that. He did, like I said, he was hitting the ball really well until he hurt his wrist, and then now he’s slowly but surely getting back, getting his swing back, we think he has potential to really hit the ball a long way, and with that being said, he could potentially hit a lot of doubles, but could end up hitting some home runs as well. We saw a little bit of that down in the minor leagues, so we’re hoping that he comes up here and he can continue to do that and give us a little bit of power down at the bottom of our lineup.”
Martinez talked in mid-September about the growth the club has seen from Riley since acquiring him from the Jays.
“For me,” Martinez said, “he’s definitely improved on game-calling. Guys love throwing to him, he handles the pitchers well, his blocking has been a lot better, his throwing has been a lot better, his hitting is coming, we sent him down for a while to work on his hitting, and he learned a lot about himself and hitting.
“When he makes contact, he hits the ball really, really hard, so that’s one thing we want him to really work on, is getting ready to hit, especially early in the counts, not being afraid to swing, but be ready to hit the fastball, and adjust from there, but I think that’s coming.
“The other day, I know he hit two balls really, really hard, but just getting him to understand that, ‘Hey, when the ball is in the strike zone, you can go ahead and swing, good chance is when you’re going to hit it, you’re going it hard,’ so we want him to be more aggressive in that aspect of the game, but he’s been really good.
“Like I said, not a day goes by where he’s not learning something as far as pitching. He sits in all the meetings, even when he’s not catching, he’s learning each and every day, he’s working with Henry [Blanco] on his blocking and his throwing, so he’s getting better.”
Adams ended up playing 48 games total in the majors this season (43 starts), with a .176/.245/.310 line, four doubles, and five home runs at the plate, and a .994 fld% and 14% CS% (5 of 37) behind it this season.
“I’ve seen him handle pitchers very, very well,” Martinez said when asked again over the final weekend of the regular season about the growth he’s seen from Adams since he was acquired. “I still want him to work on his throwing with [Catching & Strategy coach] Henry [Blanco], especially his transfer. A lot of times he gets the ball and he can’t get a grip on the ball, so he has to work on that, and he [needs to be] more consistent with his hitting. I mean, we got to get him consistent, because when he hits the ball hard it comes off the bat hot. So if we can get him to be consistent — I’m not saying that he’s going to hit .280/.290 — but there is power in there, and if he can put the ball in play we might see a lot more of that power.”
An injury to Ruiz provided an opportunity for Adams to get more time at the plate over the final few weeks of the season.
Why did he get more time than the other catchers on the roster down the stretch?
“I want to see him because he’s a guy that’s going to be a big part of our future as well,” the fifth-year skipper explained.
“Case in point, if Keibert gets hurt, [Adams is] going to have to catch the bulk of the games. So he’s getting a lot of experience catching every day, physically he’s handled it really well, and like I said, behind the plate, I talk to the pitchers, and they love throwing to him, which is good, and they say that he calls a very good game, so and now the rest of the things, the little things, like I said, about taking his walks, not expanding the strike zone, putting the ball in play more, doing the little situational things, yesterday I gave him a task of trying to bunt. He fouled the ball off and we let him hit. But you know I want him to learn that, ‘Hey, in those situations, getting a bunt down could be huge. Especially with the weather and everything that was going on, so those little things like that we need him to get better at.”