Is Adams a backup catcher with pop, or could he be more?

PLAYER REVIEW: RILEY ADAMS

Age on opening day 2022: 25

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

MLB service time: 92 days

2021 salary: $570,500

Thumbnail image for Riley Adams swing blue sidebar.jpgContract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2025, free agent in 2028

2021 stats (TOR/WSH): 47 G, 120 PA, 99 AB, 13 R, 22 H, 8 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, 15 BB, 40 SO, .222 AVG, .358 OBP, .384 SLG, .742 OPS, 105 OPS+, minus-6 DRS, 0.0 fWAR, 0.5 bWAR

Quotable: “He’s going to get an opportunity to play, play quite a bit. As you know, this day and age, a catcher that catches every day ... they need days off. So next year coming to spring training, he needs to be ready. He’s going to get a lot of opportunity to catch in spring training, and then we’ll see where he’s at.” - manager Davey Martinez

2021 analysis: The July 30 trade that brought Riley Adams to the Nationals didn’t draw a whole lot of attention, mostly because by the end of the day the Nats had also dealt away Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber and Daniel Hudson. And in the biggest trade of the bunch, they acquired one of the top catching prospects in baseball in Keibert Ruiz. Adams didn’t come with nearly the same pedigree.

But by the time the season ended, Adams had more than made a name for himself as a catcher with some serious pop in his bat.

Though his initial big league stint with the Blue Jays in June was unimpressive - he went 3-for-28 with two doubles, two walks and 12 strikeouts - Adams quickly made an impact in D.C. He blasted a go-ahead homer with two outs in the ninth in his third game for the Nats, securing an uplifting win in Atlanta, then put together a torrid week in mid-August in which he went 9-for-17 with three doubles and a homer.

Adams would see less playing time in September, after Ruiz was called up and began catching most games, and his production suffered as a result. He had only two hits in his final 25 at-bats, though he continued to draw walks (eight) and produced a .324 on-base percentage despite an .080 batting average during that span. He also struggled mightily at stopping the running game, throwing out only three of 19 basestealers with the Nationals after going 0-for-8 with the Blue Jays.

2022 outlook: The Nats have made it clear Ruiz is their No. 1 catcher heading into 2022 and will get the bulk of the starts behind the plate. That relegates Adams to the backup position, and it may mean only a couple starts per week, which could make it difficult for him to find an offensive groove.

There is, however, the possibility of more playing time if the Nationals get a bit creative. They started having Adams take grounders at first base during pregame drills in September, and though they insisted it was only designed to make sure he could handle the position if needed as part of a late-game series of substitutions, it’s certainly something the club should consider actually doing moving forward. If Ryan Zimmerman retires - still a big if - Adams could make for an ideal right-handed backup to Josh Bell, giving him at least one more start per week beyond his days filling in behind the plate for Ruiz.

Adams does still need to prove, however, that he can be a consistently productive big league hitter. The early returns were positive, but it’s hardly enough of a sample to judge him by. And he didn’t come from Toronto as a can’t-miss prospect, so he’s far from a sure thing at this early stage of his career.

Nonetheless, the Nationals have to be thrilled with the return they got for Hand. If Adams proves to be nothing more than a solid backup catcher for several years, the trade will still be deemed a success. If he proves to be more than that, it could be remembered as a steal for Mike Rizzo.

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