Is Adams assured of No. 2 catcher's job after rough year?


Age on opening day 2023: 26

How acquired: Traded from Blue Jays for Brad Hand, July 2021

MLB service time: 1 year, 49 days

2022 salary: $706,700

Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2025, free agent in 2028

2022 stats: 48 G, 155 PA, 142 AB, 14 R, 25 H, 4 2B, 0 3B, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, 1 CS, 12 BB, 46 SO, .176 AVG, .245 OBP, .310 SLG, .555 OPS, 60 OPS+, -6 DRS, -0,2 fWAR, 0.0 bWAR

Quotable: “You never want to get sent down. It’s not the best feeling. But I saw it as an opportunity to go down there and get at-bats and get as many reps as possible. I tried to take advantage as much as I could. I’m just happy to be back now.” – Riley Adams, Aug. 23 after he was recalled from Triple-A Rochester

2022 analysis: After an encouraging showing in the two months following his trade deadline acquisition in 2021, hopes were high for Adams to further establish himself as a solid No. 2 catcher for the Nationals behind starter Keibert Ruiz, maybe even as an option to make occasional starts at first base or as designated hitter.

Adams, though, got off to a slow start and never really found his groove at the plate. Typically making one or two starts per week when Ruiz needed a day off, he provided little offensive production from the bottom of the lineup. And though he made one appearance at first base in April after Lucius Fox’s very public display of a stomach illness created an unexpected infield emergency, Adams never did appear there again in the big leagues.

With his batting average sitting at .192 and his OPS at .605 at the end of June, the Nats optioned Adams to Triple-A, hoping more regular playing time in the minors would benefit him. But when he returned in late-August, the production remained the same. Even when thrust into a more prominent role after Ruiz suffered his season-ending injury, Adams hit just .156 with a .491 OPS in 21 games following his recall from Rochester.

Behind the plate, Adams also struggled. Though he drew praise for his game-calling skills, he had plenty of trouble throwing, catching only five of 37 basestealers.

2023 outlook: If the Nationals entered 2022 confident Adams was their No. 2 catcher, they can’t enter 2023 with the same positive feeling about him. He’s going to need to show some real improvement in multiple areas to secure that job, not just for opening day but for the rest of the season.

At the plate, he doesn’t need to be an elite hitter, but he does need to pose a threat. He can do that by hitting fastballs like he did his first big league season. In 2021, he batted .328 and slugged .525 off fastballs. Those numbers plummeted to .194 and .264 this season. Adams also needs to become less “pull-happy.” A hefty 45.8 percent of his batted balls this season went to left field, well above the league average of 36.8 percent. If he can start hitting more fastballs up the middle, he’ll see his production improve.

Behind the plate, Adams needs to be better at stopping the running game. He acknowledged as much late in the season after a particularly rough night in which the opposition ran at will off him. As he continues to gain big league experience, his game-calling should continue to improve as well. Whether all of that is enough to keep him in D.C. as Ruiz’s backup for the full season is up to him.

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