Durham Bulls

Rays top prospect Willy Adames trying second base

Bulls manager Jared Sandberg has been working with shortstop Willy Adames on playing second and third base too
Bulls manager Jared Sandberg has been working with shortstop Willy Adames on playing second and third base too The Herald-Sun

About once every 10 games or so, Tampa Bay Rays top prospect Willy Adames will get a different look at the game while in the field.

A shortstop throughout his amateur and professional careers and rated as the No. 1 player in the Rays minor league system by MLB.com, Adames played second base for the first time during a Durham Bulls June 2 home game against Pawtucket.

Does that mean the Rays are souring on the 21-year-old Adames’ future at shortstop? Not at all, according to team officials.

“We think Willy Adames is a shortstop,” Rays director of minor league operations Mitch Lukevics said. “That’s his priority. However, he’s going to play a little second base. On some off days he’s going to get some ground balls at third base. The Rays are all about versatility.”

That’s exactly how the club sold Adames on this plan when it began last month. He called his father to talk about it and has set about his work with the idea that it could get him to the big leagues faster and allow him to stay there longer.

“I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do,” Adames said. “If it is going to get me to the big leagues the quickest. I’ll take it.”

Adames is on a steady, but unrushed, climb to the Major Leagues. He’s in his first season with the Triple-A Durham Bulls after batting .274 with 11 home runs in 132 games at Double-A Montgomery last season.

He started slowly at the plate with the Bulls but has increased his batting average to .249 with improved hitting over the last three weeks. Adames has four home runs and a .333 on-base percentage.

The Durham Bulls coaching staff is working with Adames on his exposure to second and third base. Bulls manager Jared Sandberg also talks often with Adames to make sure he’s in the right frame of mind about all of this.

“We talk a lot,” Adames said. “We’ve been practicing and talking a lot. He’s been helping me.”

Last Friday night, Sandberg filled out the Bulls lineup card against Pawtucket with Adames playing second base. It was the first time Adames had played there at any level of baseball.

“I was kind of nervous at the beginning,” Adames said. “I was just trying to make the routine plays and trying to have fun. But it was pretty good. I felt comfortable.”

Adames handled the new position well, playing an errorless game and making two nice plays to turn ground balls into outs. He said his nerves calmed down after he successfully fielded the first ball hit at him.

“He handled it well,” Sandberg said. “He’s been extremely working hard at it. He was very nervous. But also excited. It also took the pressure off him batting in my opinion. He had to put all of his focus on second base, and he just stopped thinking at the plate where he had been kind of over-thinking a little bit. He had a good game at the plate.”

Adames went 2-for-4 that night while also drawing a walk.

Sandberg said Adames will only play second base once out of every 10 games he plays, which translates to seven or eight times the rest of this season.

He’s projected to be Tampa Bay’s starting shortstop one day and could very well be in the big leagues when the rosters are expanded in September.

In the meantime, he’ll continue taking ground balls at second, third and his natural position at shortstop so he’s ready for whatever the Rays need.

“It helps him with more value and helps us with versatility,” Lukevics said. “That’s the wave of the game. Years ago, if you were shortstop, you were a shortstop. If you were a second baseman, you were at second base. But that’s not the way it is today.”

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC