By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Willy Adames is the Tampa Bay Rays’ top prospect and considered the team’s shortstop of the future.
Despite all the accolades that come with being Baseball America’s No. 10 prospect, there was a time in 2014 when Adames almost considered quitting baseball.
The 21-year-old moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers. His first month of professional baseball didn’t go as he expected.
“I wasn’t doing very well, and I was kind of sad,” Adames said. “I would talk to my father and I wanted to go home. But he supported me and told me I had to do it, and that I went there because I wanted to be a baseball player. That really helped me.”
On top of struggling on the field, Adames was homesick being in a new country for the first time. Things weren’t playing out the way he had spent his whole life dreaming about.
Adames hit just .214 in April of 2014 in Single-A ball before turning it around with a .294 and .295 average in May and June, respectively.
It wasn’t just his family who helped him get through the rough patch. He also had some teammates who stood by his side.
“I couldn’t handle it by myself,” Adames said. “They would talk to me, and tell me to take it easy and that it’s not going to be easy, but you have to do what you do, stay calm and do your thing. That’s how I overcame it.”
Adames’ teammates didn’t only help him mentally prepare for being a professional baseball player, but they also helped him learn English.
When he was traded from the Tigers to the Rays, Adames joined the Charlotte Stone Crabs in 2015, and new teammate Andrew Velasquez helped him learn the new language, which he didn’t know at all prior to moving to the United States.
“All the American guys I was playing with, they were helping me a lot,” Adames said. “When I’d say something wrong, they would correct me. They’d be like ‘No, that’s not the word for that.’”
In addition to his teammates, Adames learned from listening to rap music and watching movies. Rap music can be hard enough to follow for fluent English speakers, yet somehow Adames followed along.
His favorite movie became “The Longest Ride” and he used it to study the new language.
“I’ve watched that one about 10 times,” he said. “I always watch it in English with the subtitles.”
Adames has developed into a key member of the Rays’ farm system. He now has the kind of personality and confidence where you’d never know how much he once struggled. You also wouldn’t even know he didn’t speak any English three years ago.
“His attitude, his aptitude, his work ethic – all the intangibles make Willy Adames stand out along with his skill,” Rays director of minor league operations Mitch Lukevics recently told the Tampa Bay Times. “He’s like the Pied Piper. He relishes that, he thrives on that, being the guy. It’s uncanny for that age.”
He spent the entire 2016 season with Double-A Montgomery, where each of his 112 starts came at shortstop. In a total of 132 games, he had a career high in runs (89), hits (133), doubles (31), home runs (11), stolen bases (13), walks (74) and slugging percentage (.430).
So far this spring, there’s nobody on the Rays’ roster who has appeared in more innings (39) at one position than Adames has at shortstop. He entered Tuesday’s game batting just .188 in 16 at-bats. He did have one homer and an RBI to his credit, though.
Some projections have Adames joining the big club as early as this season, but obviously there are many factors that come into play, mostly his development and injuries.
Once he his called up, it won’t be to sit on the bench. It will likely be as the team’s everyday starter at shortstop.