Riley Adams has been a familiar face on the Nationals as a backup catcher since 2021, but this was his first season in the Major Leagues without any stints in the Minors.
Adams, 27, took advantage of that extended time with the club. He appeared in 44 games (39 starts) and set career highs in at-bats, hits, doubles, RBIs and batting average. While his third big league season ended in early September because of a broken left hamate bone, Adams is expected to be healthy for Spring Training.
“You always set goals for yourself at the beginning of the year and different things you want to accomplish, and I think there were a lot of those goals that I was really happy with,” Adams said at the end of the season. “It’s my first time being in the big leagues for the whole year, and I’m proud of that accomplishment. I felt like every time I was in there, I was able to contribute and have an impact. I think there are a lot of things that are promising and positive to build on. I still know there’s plenty of room to build on, and this year was just a good stepping stone for the future.”
Adams slashed .273/.331/.476 with a .807 OPS in 143 at-bats this season, compared with batting .176 in just one fewer at-bat last year. Of Adams’ 39 hits, 19 went for extra bases (13 doubles, two triples, four home runs), and he recorded 12 multi-hit games in 2023.
“I’m not a huge numbers [goal-setter],” Adams said. “It's more like a, ‘Did I feel like I did this? Yes or no,' kind of thing. … I felt a lot more confident at the plate this year. I've been trying to be more aggressive and be ready to hit the pitch. I think that alone, I made improvements there and that certainly helped, and it was reflected in my performance. Thinking about it, it feels like it was a big step in the right direction.”
Adams worked on more than his approach at the plate; he focused on his approach to being a backup catcher, too. This March, Keibert Ruiz signed an eight-year, $50 million contract extension to be the Nationals' starting catcher of the future.
“I think there's so much of a mental thing with baseball,” Adams said. “I think just kind of understanding my role with this team, understanding being a backup catcher, playing once or twice a week. I felt like last year in that same role, I was trying to be too perfect and I put too much pressure on myself. I felt like I was able to relax a little bit more this year, to take a breath and not feel so pressured to be perfect. I think that was probably the biggest thing that allowed for success.”
Behind the plate, Adams could be counted on for his preparation. His coaching staff and teammates lauded Adams for his disciplined and studious work ethic. Adams paid it forward by sharing his knowledge with rookie catcher Drew Millas when the Nationals’ No. 22 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, was called up in late August.
“When you don't play as much, you have to [be prepared],” Adams said. “... Hitting a baseball and doing stuff on the field, there's a lot of skill involved and you're going to fail, you're going to have success. But I think the way you prepare doesn't take any skill, doesn’t take any talent, it’s just putting in the work. … I don’t want to ever feel like the reason I struggled out in the field is because I wasn’t prepared, and that’s the important part.”
Adams will contend for the backup catcher spot again next season. He has a strong 2023 resume to build upon in camp.
“I'm definitely proud, but I also look at it like there's still a ton of room for growth,” Adams said. “I still feel like there's more in the tank.”