Read up as the Colorado Rockies begin spring training, and there are two takeaways at shortstop: Jose Reyes' absence, and Trevor Story's ascension. The Reyes-Story storyline makes sense with one an expensive veteran with a high-profile criminal accusation, and the other a top prospect who ought to be part of the club's future contention. Neither is insignificant, but the discussion leaves out an option: Cristhian Adames.
Both MLB.com's Thomas Harding and the Denver Post's Patrick Saunders have written recently about Story's rise to Denver this spring (to Harding's credit, he's also focused a nice piece on Adames). Reyes, of course, has been in the news cycle everywhere after being placed on paid administrative leave. Even yesterday morning, I joined the Jim Davis Show on The Team 1340 AM in Grand Junction (I'm in the middle of Wednesday's hour three) and three of the first four questions fired my way were about Reyes and Story.
But as Reyes will spend Opening Day in court, and Story—who has just 61 games of experience above Double-A—may well spend it wearing an Albuquerque Isotopes uniform in Tacoma—Adames is nearly a sure-thing to start the season on the Rockies' 25-man roster. Though he may not have the shortstop of the future ceiling of Story, Adames is certainly worthy of being in the discussion as the Rockies' capable (read: not Daniel Descalso or Rafael Ynoa) starting shortstop for 2016.
This winter, we've broken down Adames alternately as a player who hasn't adjusted smoothly to the every day demands of the big leagues, and a prospect who's nearly a sure thing to have a solid floor as a bench option. Split the difference on those, and you're probably looking long-term at a utility infielder—something Adames did in Albuquerque last summer. That's probably about right, and a fine option especially if Story (or Brendan Rodgers) ascends to become a starter; Adames being the club's fourth/fifth infielder is probably a significant upgrade to, say, Ynoa.
But for now, knowing competition in camp, Adames also probably has the best shot to be the Opening Day starter at shortstop, and shouldn't be forgotten in the focus of the other two guys in the conversation. There's little point in analyzing Adames' big league performance with any sort of finality (he's a career .206/.250/.250 hitter in just 73 plate appearances) but he did do an interesting thing in a full Triple-A season last summer:
He did something that's a good sign for a switch-hitting infielder who can hit at the top or bottom of the order and needs to be flexible in his big league role:
|As RHH vs LHP||80||189||.305||.370||.389||.759|
|As LHH vs RHP||122||380||.304||.348||.441||.790|
And historically, he's compared well to Story across every level of the minor leagues:
|Cristhian Adames||8 seasons||696||2952||.281||.348||.375||.722|
|Trevor Story||5 seasons||537||2350||.263||.348||.469||.817|
Obviously, Story has significantly more power than Adames, but the latter's hit tool shouldn't be overlooked, at least when compared to the former (not to mention Story's significantly higher strikeout rates throughout his time in the minor leagues).
It's easy to forget, too, that Adames is young. While Story is ahead of his clock and reached Triple-A 4.7 years younger than his competition last summer, Adames himself was still 3.7 years younger than the average PCL opponent. Neither one has passed their chance at significant Major League innings while still young and projectable; we're not talking about 26-year-old former prospects desperate to salvage some value.
Perhaps FanGraphs puts it best about Adames' short-term future in Denver:
His ability to put bat to ball will determine whether he's a fringy major league starter, utility man, or minor league backup. With Jose Reyes on the cusp of a suspension and Trevor Story perhaps half a season from the majors, Adames may have a brief window to make a name for himself ... Offensively, the profile wouldn't read like much if his home park wasn't Coors Field. As it stands, Adames could be a decent major league shortstop. Or less. The Rockies are swimming in shortstop prospects so this may be his one chance to grab a job.
His ceiling won't be that of Story, in part because of his relative lack of power compared to the Texas high school product, but Cristhian Adames' floor isn't insignificant and at least in the short run, he deserves some of the focus as—at least in my opinion—by far the most likely options as the Rockies' next starting shortstop.
That role and title may only fall under his name for a few months in 2016, but if Adames makes the most of it, he can leave the Rockies with enough of an impression to keep him in their contention plans the next several seasons as a capable, flexible bench option. There are far worse ways to carve out a career in professional baseball, after all.