What Does The Future Hold For Riley Adams?

The Nationals have been a pleasant surprise so far this season, most recently winning series against the Dodgers and Astros. A big help in accomplishing that has been Riley Adams' offensive success so far this year. So, let's dive in and look more in depth at Adams' recent success and then answer a big question. The Nationals already have Keibert Ruiz, the hopeful catcher of the future, so where does that leave Riley Adams?
Houston Astros v Washington Nationals
Houston Astros v Washington Nationals / G Fiume/GettyImages
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The Nationals are coming off series wins against the Dodgers and Astros, propelling them to a better than expected 10-11 start. With Keibert Ruiz on the shelf with an illness, it has been Riley Adams taking over the backstop role as of late. Adams has taken the opportunity and ran with it, as his offensive success has been a big key of the Nationals overall team success thus far. Ruiz is on his way back from his illness, and has already locked into an eight-year extension, so what does that mean for Adams and his potential future with the organization?

Albeit a small sample size, Riley Adams has made some impressive changes to his game so far in 2024. To begin, Adams is pulling the ball at a 53.3% rate, much higher than the 38.0% mark from a year ago. Additionally, the changes Adams has made includes increases in his average exit velocity and hard hit percentage, leading to a 11.7% increase in his barrel rate, which now sits at 16.7%. This number ranks him in the 94th percentile of all of major league baseball. When it comes to metrics that measure quality of contact, Adams has improved in practically every one of them. As of April 23rd, Riley Adams is at the 66nd percentile or better in xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, average exit velocity, barrel %, hard hit %, and sweet-spot %.

One area that is helping drive all this newfound success has been the fact that Adams is much improved against the fastball this year. From 2022 to now, Adams has watched his run value against the fastball improve from -6 in 2022, to a net neutral 0 last season, and now up to +3 so far in 2024. Adams is hunting for fastballs, and crushing them to an expected slugging percentage of 1.245 and hard hit rate of 60%.

Despite some of this newfound success, Riley Adams still has room to grow. While Adams is making hard contact when he does make contact, the issue has been making that contact. The young backstop is chasing pitches at a 33.3% rate, whiffing at 29.9% of pitches he swings at, and striking out in 28.3% of his plate appearances. If and when Adams is able to cut down on the free swinging, his growth will continue to blossom. It is worth mentioning that Adams is also down defensively, as his blocking, framing, and catching baserunner abilities are all below average.

With all that being said, the big question remains - what does Riley Adams future with the Nationals look like? The current catching tandem of Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams have both showcased their offensive capabilities for a few years now, but neither have been all too consistent throughout a full season. On top of that, both have been rather lackluster catchers when it comes to their defense behind the plate. Ruiz has also already been locked into an extension, where as Adams' future is still more up in the air.

One possible course of action that has been mentioned is at least one of them transitioning to first base and taking over there, especially with the fact that the Nationals don't have any major first base prospects at the moment. Riley Adams does have some experience handling first base, but in the smallest degree. Riley played first base in the major leagues one time during the 2022 season and has limited experience at the position throughout this minor league career. However, this would be an avenue to get Adams in the lineup more often where his value really shines as opposed to every 4th or 5th game as a backup to Ruiz. Drew Millas can easily fill that role and is arguable better suited for it as he is the best defensive catcher of the three options.

Keibert Ruiz is coming back soon, but Riley Adams has already shown enough this year to earn himself some more reps. Whether it be split time behind the dish with Ruiz, additional time as a designated hitter, or some light introduction at first-base, Riley Adams deserves more chances to grow. The improvements are already being showcased, and continued improvements on his pitch selection and whiff rates will allow Riley Adams to go off. While his future with the Nationals is unknown as of right now, he deserves to remain on the team for the future.