Durham Bulls

Willy Adames’ climb to Rays lands him with Durham Bulls

Durham Bulls' Willie Adames reacts after scoring against the Duke Blue Devils at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park during an exhibition game last week. Adames is the Tampa Bay Rays’ No. 1-rated prospect.
Durham Bulls' Willie Adames reacts after scoring against the Duke Blue Devils at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park during an exhibition game last week. Adames is the Tampa Bay Rays’ No. 1-rated prospect. The Herald-Sun

He’s the last man standing from one of the Tampa Bay franchise’s most important moments.

Willy Adames, though, is far from the bottom of the barrel. In fact, last just might be best in this case.

Nearly three years after the Tampa Bay Rays acquired him as part their trade of Cy Young Award-winning pitcher David Price, the 21-year-old Adames has reached Triple-A with the Durham Bulls.

He’s Tampa Bay’s top prospect, an athletic shortstop blessed with a quick bat, a keen eye and a winning personality.

“He’s at Triple-A for the first time and playing at a high level and honing his skills to get to the Major League level,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. “He’s going to get there. He’s going to play in the big leagues for a long time. I am excited to continue to talk to him and watch him develop as a player. He’s really exciting.”

He does so representing the last player directly involved in the Price trade still playing in the Rays organization.

Back on July 31, 2014, the Rays dealt Price to Detroit in a trade deadline swap the franchise so often is forced to complete.

Four times the hard-throwing lefty pitched the Rays into the postseason, including his five playoff appearances as a rookie during the 2008 American League championship season. He won the 2012 American League Cy Young Award.

When the Rays realized their small-market budget wouldn’t allow them to retain Price, they worked a three-way trade with Seattle and Detroit.

Infielder Nick Franklin came to Tampa Bay from the Mariners while Adames and left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly arrived from the Tigers.

After two seasons shuttling between Tampa and Durham, Franklin is now with Milwaukee Brewers. Smyly, though injured, is now Seattle’s property.

That leaves Adames as the main link to Price, who is now playing on a $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.

“I wouldn’t say it was pressure,” Adames said. “It’s been motivation for me. Every day I’m trying to do my best. I just do whatever I have to do to get there and do well.”

From Santiago, Dominican Republic, Adames signed with Detroit as an international free agent in 2012 when he was 16 years old. He has methodically worked his way up the Tampa Bay minor league organization since the trade, from Bowling Green in the Midwest League to Port Charlotte in the Florida State and Double-A Montgomery.

He batted .274 with the Biscuits last season while smacking 11 home runs in 132 games.

Having been added to the Rays’ 40-man roster, Adames batted .300 with a home run in 11 spring training games for Tampa Bay this spring before accepting his assignment to the Bulls.

Durham is part of the process for the top prospect and he appears to have the right attitude to succeed.

“I’m going to just play ball and do my best,” Adames said. “Try to get better on my defense and work on the little things that I have to get better on to get to the big leagues.”

Sandberg likes the work ethic he’s seen from Adames, both in spring training and now with the Bulls.

“He’s got tremendous energy,” Sandberg said. “He comes to the ballpark every day ready to play. That’s the thing for me, coming to play but also coming to work. He’s in here asking for ground balls. He’s not one to shy away from extra ground balls or work in the cage, whatever it may be.”

Adames’ attitude, a positive according to his coaches and teammates, isn’t the result of a wide-eyed kid who hasn’t dealt with baseball’s harsher side.

The deaths of two other young Dominican baseball stars – Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras at age 22 in 2014 and Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura at age 25 last January – in car wrecks showed him how fragile life can be.

He’s taken any pressure from his involvement in the Price trade and turned it into an opportunity.

“It was hard in the beginning,” Adames said. “When you are involved in a trade, especially when you are a young guy like that at 18 years old, you don’t really know much about it. It was hard time in the beginning but it was the best thing for me because they involved me in a trade for a guy like David Price, a Cy Young star in the big leagues, I think it was amazing.”

Through Durham’s first 12 games this season, the 6-1, 180 pound Adames was hitting .163 with one home run and 5 RBIs.

It’s all part of his climb to one day becoming Tampa Bay’s starting shortstop.

“We’ve talked about patience,” Sandberg said. “We’ve talked about getting his work done, not worrying about the distractions that happen here at Triple-A in terms of when you are going to the big leagues, if the guy next to him is being negative because he’s not being called up. He’s gotta worry about those distractions a little bit and his timetable. He’ll get to the big leagues when he’s ready and the game says he’s ready. I’m looking forward to seeing him play. It’s going to be a great season for Willy Adames.”

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC