Adams was only 4 years old when his father introduced him to a baseball coach.
"When you’re a kid, your parents try to put you in all different sports to see what you like,” remembers Adams. “My dad was friends with the baseball coach from UC–San Diego, and he’s the one who got me into baseball.”
“All my life I wanted to pursue baseball, but that’s every kid’s dream coming up,” explains Adams. “It was definitely the sport I caught on to the most.”
That passion led Adams through his career playing recreational ball as a kid and earned him a spot on the well-known Encinitas Reds travel team at age 7. Adams’ baseball trajectory hit another milestone when was a freshman attending Canyon Crest Academy.
“I made varsity as a shortstop,” Adams says, looking back. “After that first season, our team didn’t have a catcher. So my head coach asked me if that was something I was interested in.”
It turns out that the varsity team’s coach that year was Ryan Sienko, who made a career as a catcher himself in the minor leagues. As a result, Adams was learning catching from an ideal teacher.
“He’s the one who showed me the ropes concerning all things catching,” says Adams. “That’s how I really got noticed.”
Adams graduated from Canyon Crest Academy in Encinitas, California. He hit .455 with a .645 on-base-percentage as a senior. Riley also lettered in basketball and was All-County as a senior, with 21 points per game and 15 rebounds per game.
In addition to San Diego, Riley was recruited by Stanford, Vanderbilt, Utah, San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara and Washington, but chose to attend USD because the university is compatible with both his academic and athletic interests, as well as the beautiful campus, great baseball stadium, as well as the coaching staff and players on the team.
Riley majored in business administration and minored in psychology, not a bad concentration for a guy who is also a catcher.
Adams has always found sanctuary on a baseball field.
"It's a place that’s peaceful for me,” Riley said. “I feel like it’s an easy place to be and an easy place to escape anything that has been going on around me.
“I love the mental side of baseball,” he says. “There’s so much time to think and reflect. It’s always a constant battle between not thinking enough and thinking too much."
And there’s the challenge of coming to terms with the fact that you’re going to return to the dugout after an at-bat far more often than finding yourself on base.
“Everyone always says baseball is a game of failure,” Adams said. “I’ve never liked to look at it that way. It’s a great opportunity for success every day. I love to come out every single day for that drive to be the best that I can be.”
In 2014, the Cubs chose Adams in the 37th round, out of the Univ. of San Diego. But he did not sign.
“I decided to uphold my scholarship.”
That keen sense of thoughtfulness about baseball has propelled Adams throughout his career so far.
“It’s a crazy thing to get drafted, and just to be in the mix is a special thing that not many people get to experience,” Adams said. “According to MLB rules, you have to go to college for a minimum of three years in order to enter the draft again.”
Riley's father Matt played basketball at UC-San Diego.
Riley is a second-degree black belt in karate.
Adams has real good makeup and excellent work ethic. He plays the game the right way.
And he has a great body—6-foot-4, 225 pounds—getting off the bus and looks like Adonis.
- In the summer of 2016, Riley got on scouts' radar while playing for the Orleans Firebirds in the prestigious Cape Cod League.
June 2017: Adams was the Blue Jays third round pick, out of the Univ. of San Diego. And Riley signed for $542,400, via scout Jim Lentine.
In 2018, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Adams as the 20th-best prospect in the Blue Jays organization. After missing the book in 2019-2021, Riley was the Nationals 12th-best prospect in the spring of 2022.
2019 Season: Adams put together a solid season after a somewhat mediocre season in Dunedin in 2018. He hit .258/.349/.439 in New Hampshire, hitting 11 home runs and showing some power. While he slumped in June (.176/.256/.203), he recovered and had a strong August, hitting .280/.372/.560 with six of his 11 home runs in NH (and 14 on the season including 3 with Dunedin).
- 2020 Scouting Report: Riley Adams can’t wait for the 2020 season to start.
After working his way up to Double-A New Hampshire last year, the 23-year-old catcher is confident about what comes next. The Blue Jays’ No 27 prospect spent the first month of the 2019 season at Class A Advanced Dunedin, where he hit .277/.434/.462 with three homers, three doubles and almost as many walks as strikeouts in 19 games before earning his promotion.
In 81 games with the Fisher Cats, Adams slashed .258/.349/.439, with 11 home runs, 15 doubles, two triples and 39 RBIs. The learning experience gave him a hint of what he is capable of, and also of the areas where he needs to improve. After an offseason of hard work, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound backstop is looking forward to keeping the train moving forward.
“This is a season I feel like, more than the others, I just feel really confident with everything going into it,” Adams said. “A lot of things are clicking really well right now and I’m excited to get out there and show everybody what I’ve got. I’m excited to get back to it.”
Evaluating himself using a Major League Scouting Bureau report and its 2-to-8 scale, with grades based on the standards set by the Bureau, Adams noted an opportunity to make significant improvements in his game as he moves forward.
Top tools: The Encinitas, Calif., native gave himself the highest future grades in his hitting ability, power, fielding, baseball instincts and arm accuracy, offering well-above-average future evaluations in half of the categories he self-graded.
“There are a lot of things to work on to improve [my] game, and it’s important to have as wide a toolbox as possible,” Adams said. “There are a lot of things I’m capable of, and that I expect of myself. I know the abilities I can show and I have high expectations for myself because I know [what] I’m capable of, and I know it’s in there.”
Room to improve: Adams jumped his power three grades, from being presently below average to being well-above-average in the future. He believes that by the time he makes it to the Majors, his biggest strides will have come in his power numbers.
“There are a lot of different ways I can do that,” he said. “On the mechanical side, working on fine-tuning a lot of the details will help, but from a pitch selection and game-mentality side, they go hand in hand. You clean up some mechanics, it helps you see the ball a little bit better, it helps you lay off some pitches. I’m a bigger, stronger guy, so there’s always that power in there. I really want to find ways to harness that as much as possible.”
Scouting the scout: Offering insight into his own game and grades, the young catcher understands there are plenty of evaluations out there to be found and read, but he doesn’t believe that poring over them will help improve his game in any significant way.
“There are a lot of reports like this, and I don’t really look into that stuff because it’s not as valuable to me. It’s what everyone else says, their opinion on things, so I don’t spend too much time looking into that or analyzing those opinions because I want to do my own thing and focus on what I know I can control. That’s more important to me.”
What the scouts say: “He’s a guy with the perfect baseball body, feel for the game and more in the tank,” one scout said. “He will have to continue to develop and get the strikeouts down, but he controls the game behind the plate and he seems to take pride in what he’s doing. He can keep getting better, and if he does, he has a chance to be a regular at the big league level.”
Of what the scouting report doesn’t address about him, Adams pointed out that, “As a catcher, I try to do whatever it takes for my pitchers. I want to give them everything I’ve got, because I know that every day they go out and throw, they’re doing [all] they can. And I like to consider myself a pretty fun guy around the clubhouse who likes to enjoy myself and mess around, and have a good time on the field. We’re playing a game for a living, so we can’t complain about that.” (Alexis Brudnicki)
Riley needed to make quick adjustments throughout his MLB debut in June 8, 2021's 6-1 loss to the White Sox. He had no idea if he was going to be activated for the series. He was notified when he walked into Guaranteed Rate Field that he'd be catching Robbie Ray that night.
There was no time for the moment to sink in or to overthink anything. Adams needed to prepare with Ray and familiarize himself with how he attacks the zone with a revived slider, while also preparing to bat by studying the arsenal of opposing starter Carlos Rodón. As the night unfolded, Adams found himself in a memorable game. “There were some parts that sped up,” Adams said. “But having Robbie out there to help me out, talking with him before the game and just trying to get on the same page with him, he made it a lot easier and a lot nicer to settle down.”
Ray struck out 13 hitters without allowing a walk in 6 1/3 innings with Adams as his battery mate. The seventh inning that saw Ray exit in a tied ballgame turned into a testament of Adams’ capability behind the plate in high pressure situations. “Of course, we're playing a good team, he's facing a pretty good pitcher, and then in the seventh inning, with Rafael Dolis wild a little bit and having the pressure to be blocking balls and blocking the split with the game on the line, he was outstanding,” manager Charlie Montoyo said of Adams. “I guess he said he was nervous in the first inning or something, but I didn't see it. He did a nice job and I was impressed with that.”
The rookie’s nerves weren’t evident in his second at-bat, either. He drilled a four-seam fastball from Rodón and sent it 403 feet to straightaway center for his first big league hit. “Obviously I've never faced him in my life. I know he's got a good fastball and a good hard slider, but I thought in my first at-bat was good,” Adams said. “I just chased the slider at the end and it's a good pitch, I'll tip my cap to him. But I think when I got to my second time around, I definitely felt a lot more comfortable, and maybe a little bit less nerves and adrenaline kicking in, so I was able to do something on the baseball.”
Adams' family was in attendance to see his first professional hit. They had decided to make the trip because they had an inkling that the 24-year-old was going to make his debut in the series. It was a risk since Adams wasn’t officially on the active roster, but he was traveling with the team in anticipation of it.
They made it to the stadium in time and were fully prepared with the catcher’s Minor League jerseys to show their support. “Honestly, I had no idea that we're going to do anything with jerseys or anything like that,” Adams said. “They just showed up and I think there were a few parts of the game I was trying to look for them in the stands. I didn't know they were in any jerseys, I was looking for some Blue Jays stuff.” (Garcia - mlb.com - 6/9/2021)
Aug 3, 2021: Manager Dave Martinez threw his newest catcher into the big leagues headfirst. Riley Adams had just arrived from Rochester, N. Y., having made the 5 1/2-hour drive early that morning after appearing in one game for the Triple-A affiliate.
Martinez mentioned pregame that he was excited to have the power hitter join the lineup, noting that Adams would split time with the other catchers. What the Nats' skipper failed to mention was how soon he was planning on getting the organization’s No. 13-ranked prospect into the action.
The Nationals trailed by one in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs, Adams stepped into the batter’s box as a pinch-hitter. The 6-foot-4 catcher was facing Phillies reliever Jose Alvarado, who was touching 100 mph with his sinker. Though Adams stuck out on five pitches, it was an important opportunity to get his feet wet and get comfortable with his new club prior to his first start, when he’ll be batting in the six-hole.
Catching has always been the first priority for the Blue Jays’ 2017 third-round pick. Adams likes to focus on getting to know his pitchers before he shifts focus to the batter’s box. And yet his slash line is nothing to scoff at.Adams has hit .262 with a .363 on-base percentage and a .419 slugging percentage across four professional seasons (2017-21). He has 17 RBIs with seven homers so far this season, all in the Minors.
“I'm just excited to be here,” said Adams. “It's my first time in D.C., and it's off to a good start. It's a brand new team and a lot of new faces that I’ve got to get to know. Especially a lot of pitchers that I need to get on board with as quickly as possible. So [I’m] looking forward to getting into the clubhouse, trying to meet as many guys as possible and [trying] to learn the pitching staff as quickly as possible.” (S McCann - MLB.com - Aug 4, 2021)
The moment the familiar beat blares inside Nationals Park, there’s no mistaking who is coming to the plate. The catchy notes are for Riley, whose walk-up song selection of Blink-182’s 21-year-old smash hit “All the Small Things” has quickly become a crowd-pleaser since he was acquired from the Blue Jays in July 2021.
“I’m a diehard Blink fan,” Adams said with a big smile.
The San Diego-based band wasn’t just a local influence for Adams growing up in Encinitas, Calif. The connection hit much closer to home -- literally. Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker lived in Adams’ neighborhood in the early 2000s. When the band would get together at Barker’s house, Adams would go outside and hear the sounds of them performing nearby. “Blink would just be playing backyard concerts, so we could just sit in our driveway and listen to them play,” he said.
After Adams moved to another area growing up, a new neighbor coincidentally had a studio where the band had recorded music. Adams toured it and basked in the coincidence. “It was just the ultra-small world,” he said. “Like, I can’t escape Blink.”
As the time came for Adams to pick a walk-up song at the University of San Diego, the decision was a no-brainer. He’s carried it with him throughout his rise to the Major Leagues, where one of his favorite memories occurred in his first short season in Vancouver.
“It got to the point where when I would come up to hit, [and] once the song stopped because the at-bat was starting, the fans would keep singing it,” Adams said. “They would keep going, and it would be a couple pitches into the at-bat and they’re getting to the chorus and everything. I’m like, ‘This is cool.’ That was pretty special.”
Of all Blink-182’s hits, Adams’ favorite actually is “First Date.” He enjoys “All the Small Things,” though, for its connection with the crowd. “It’s easily their most popular -- it’s kind of an anthem,” he said. “You hear it and you go, ‘Oh yeah, I know that song. I remember listening to that.’ At some point, I feel like everyone had a moment there. It’s just kind of fun, and I’ve enjoyed that.”
Adams has put meeting Blink-182 on his bucket list, and he would have “a million” questions he’d like to ask after watching “way too many documentaries” about them. Until that happens, he is bringing the happiness of one of their greatest hits to fans at Nationals Park. “Blink holds a special place in my heart,” he said. (Camerato - mlb.com - 8/22/2021)
2021 Season: Adams made his Major League debut in 12 games with the Blue Jays but hit just .107 in 30 plate appearances.
After the trade to the Nationals, he spent time with both Triple-A Rochester and the Nationals. He played in one game with the Red Wings while appearing in 35 games and hitting .268 in 90 PAs with the Nationals.
2022 Season: Riley Adams, who turned 26 in June, was part of the Nationals’ roster on Opening Day 2022, and he stayed in the majors until early July, though he didn’t play much over the first three months (27 games, 24 starts between April 9 and June 28).
When the club optioned the backstop to Triple-A Rochester, big league manager Davey Martinez explained the thinking.
“For Riley,” Martinez said of the catcher who had a .192/.284/.321 line at the plate in 27 games and 88 plate appearances at the time, “it was tough, but it was about getting him consistent at-bats, getting him down there [to Triple-A], letting him catch every day, also play a little bit of first base, but it was more about just getting him consistent at-bats every day down there.”
Playing behind No. 1 catcher Keibert Ruiz, the starts and at-bats were few and far between in the Majors. So the Nationals sent Adams down to get him reps at and behind the plate.
“I want to get him going, so it’s not the last we’ve seen of Riley. I think a lot of — Riley has done really well. He’s made some big, big improvements catching, and that’s good, but it’s more about getting him out there every day catching, getting at-bats every single day, and then seeing where we’re at here in a few weeks.”
The plan, apparently, was to get Adams some reps at first base too, which his manager said would benefit both the player and potentially the big league club going forward.
“We want him to learn how to play another position,” Martinez said. “We have — it’s hard to get him at-bats when you have a switch-hitting catcher in Keibert. My efforts were to try to get him out there at least 2-3 times a week, but more so than that for him, I value what he does, I value the person he is, and like I said, it’s all about Riley Adams and getting him at-bats. It always stinks when you get sent down, we get that, but I think moving forward for his future here, we want to get him going.”
And they were trying to get him going, his manager said at the time, because they have high hopes for Adams.
“I believe this guy can hit 15-20 home runs, and catch the way he catches, and if he can play first base in a moment that we can put him out there and he can catch the ball.” Martinez stopped there, on the possibilities it presents for the future.
“So, it will be good for us and also be good for him in his career,” he added.
The manager also said they were talking about getting Adams more at-bats for a while at that point.
“And so at this particular moment I thought it would be best to get him down there, get him some at-bats, getting him going before we lose too much of the season,” Martinez explained.
Adams dealt with a wrist injury while at Triple-A, so he ended up playing just two games at first, while catching 22 times, and serving as the DH six times before he was called back up in late August.
“The plan was to get him down there and get him 150 at-bats or so,” Martinez said.
“We did do that. He did, like I said, he was hitting the ball really well until he hurt his wrist, and then now he’s slowly but surely getting back, getting his swing back, we think he has potential to really hit the ball a long way, and with that being said, he could potentially hit a lot of doubles, but could end up hitting some home runs as well. We saw a little bit of that down in the minor leagues, so we’re hoping that he comes up here and he can continue to do that and give us a little bit of power down at the bottom of our lineup.”
Martinez talked in mid-September about the growth the club has seen from Riley since acquiring him from the Jays.
“For me,” Martinez said, “he’s definitely improved on game-calling. Guys love throwing to him, he handles the pitchers well, his blocking has been a lot better, his throwing has been a lot better, his hitting is coming, we sent him down for a while to work on his hitting, and he learned a lot about himself and hitting.
“When he makes contact, he hits the ball really, really hard, so that’s one thing we want him to really work on, is getting ready to hit, especially early in the counts, not being afraid to swing, but be ready to hit the fastball, and adjust from there, but I think that’s coming.
“The other day, I know he hit two balls really, really hard, but just getting him to understand that, ‘Hey, when the ball is in the strike zone, you can go ahead and swing, good chance is when you’re going to hit it, you’re going it hard,’ so we want him to be more aggressive in that aspect of the game, but he’s been really good.
“Like I said, not a day goes by where he’s not learning something as far as pitching. He sits in all the meetings, even when he’s not catching, he’s learning each and every day, he’s working with Henry [Blanco] on his blocking and his throwing, so he’s getting better.”
Adams ended up playing 48 games total in the majors this season (43 starts), with a .176/.245/.310 line, four doubles, and five home runs at the plate, and a .994 fielding % and 14% CS (5 of 37) behind it this season. (Patrick Reddington@federalbaseball - Oct 26, 2022)
- June 2017: Adams was the Blue Jays third round pick, out of the Univ. of San Diego. And Riley signed for $542,400, via scout Jim Lentine.
- July 29, 2021: The Nationals traded LHP Brad Hand to the Blue Jays for C Riley Adams.
|Birth City:||Encinitas, CA|
|Draft:||Blue Jays #3 - 2017 - Out of Univ. of San Diego (CA)|
Adams has leverage in his swing and has above-average raw power
Riley has shown some ability at the plate and increased his power output in each of his three years as a starter at San Diego
While he played with his leg kick and different hand positions with the bat, he feels “the biggest strides I took this year were offensively and understanding where my legs were, really getting into my back hip and staying behind the ball and letting the ball travel, instead of trying to go get it out front.”
Adams understands that there is work to be done with his mechanics, pitch selection and game mentality, and believes that cleaning up his mechanics should help him see the ball better and lay off more pitches, eventually resulting in bigger power numbers. There’s some swing and miss to his game, but he also works deep at-bats and draws his share of walks, leading to solid on-base numbers. (Spring 2021)
Riley knows the strike zone. But his power comes with a lot of strikeouts, especially when his swing tends to get big. (Spring, 2018)
2020 Season: With Adams, the Blue Jays add a fifth catcher to their 40-man roster. Now 24, the former third-round pick reached Double-A in 2018 and has shown the ability to hit for power with a full, 6-foot-4 frame. Adams’ power ceiling might be the biggest variable in his career path from here, but he adds to a crowded group of catchers who profile very differently.
With Moreno and Adams joining Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Reese McGuire, the Blue Jays have a good problem on their hands. It’s not comfortable for a team to carry five catchers on their 40-man roster while also trying to be aggressive in adding external players over the offseason, but the Blue Jays can face that logjam when they reach it. When negotiating on the trade market, many opposing teams will check in on the availability of Toronto’s catching depth, given how rare it is across baseball. (K Matheson - MLB.com - Nov 20, 2020) (Editor's note: In July 2021, Adams got traded to the Nationals.)
Adams' receiving and presentation need work. But he works hard and displays solid athleticism.
Riley has 60 grade arm strength, but issues in his release keep his arm from being as effective as it could be. In past minor league seasons, he nabbed greater than 40 percent of would-be base stealers, but those numbers eroded as the competition got better.
Adams earns high praise from club officials for his all-around defensive skills and his feel for controlling a game and managing pitchers, skills he takes extreme pride in. His arm strength is average but strong catch-and-throw skills enable him to limit the running game, as evidenced by his 39.2 percent caught-stealing rate in his pro career. Those defensive chops could make Adams a backup catcher at the highest level, and any additional progress at the plate could thrust him into consideration for an everyday role.
"I want to catch,” Adams said. “I love how involved you are in a game as a catcher. I get a feel for the umpire. I get a good vantage point seeing pitches. It helps me at the plate. I really enjoy catching just to get that feel for everything."
He has impressive athleticism, which should help him make the big strides in his blocking, receiving and mobility skills behind the plate. (Spring 2021)
Riley's best tool is his 65 or 70 grade arm. His longer levers at times make his arm play below its arm strength.
In 2017, Austin threw out 40 percent of Northwest League base-stealers.
Adams’ receiving and presentation need work. But he has already improved at blocking.
“The better he shows as a catcher, the more value he has,” said a longtime National League scout who has followed Adams in both high school and college. “With his frame, it may take him a little longer to become the catcher he would like to become. One thing he has going for him is that he’s athletic.”
The scout said Adams needs to relax more when he catches, that “he can be a little rigid at times.”
“He’s very intelligent, very smart behind the plate,” the scout said. “It’s just a matter of how he develops with the receiving part of it. That would be the one knock on him.”
Riley came late to catching. He was a shortstop through his freshman year of high school at San Diego’s Canyon Crest Academy in California.
Adams said the varsity team didn’t have a catcher coming into his sophomore season and his coached asked him if he would give it a go.
“Early on, I just wanted to pick everything, because that’s what you’re used to at shortstop,” Adams said. “You’re not used to just trying to body up something. So getting past that hurdle of just letting the ball hit you and doing things like that was something I had to work through and I’m still working on. I think I’ve made big strides.”
Adams was soon consumed with catching. He enjoys being involved with every pitch.
“Every once in a while, I’ll play a game at first base and have to find a way to keep my mind on it,” Adams said. “As a catcher, you’re always involved, thinking of the next move, the next thing you’re going to have to do.” (Kirk Kenney - Baseball America - 5/26/2017)
2020 Covid-shortened season:
During the down time after workouts at the Blue Jays' alternate training site in Rochester, N.Y., catcher Riley Adams found himself closely watching the games with the day’s scouting report in hand.
Without actual games of his own to run, he would zero in on how Toronto's catcher deployed the information to attack hitters, using that as an opportunity to develop his own pitch-calling skills.
Adams’ work earned him a 40-man roster spot, and how he leverages his work in 2021 will determine his progression up the depth chart.
Riley used the experience to try new things, from receiving on one knee to experimenting with different body positions and movements in the batter’s box.
“When you don't have to show results necessarily, you can have a few days where you can grind through a little bit and really work on a mechanical adjustment or something,” Adams said. “And you can go through a little bit more of a struggle until you get to a point that you're really happy about.”
Adams got there with receiving on one knee, honing it into a skill that he plans to use in advantageous counts. (Shi Davidi - Baseball America - Feb., 2021)