We haven’t done a good Prospect Smackdown in a long time. We’ll correct that today with a compare/contrast look at two of the best young infielders in baseball: Franklin Barreto of the Oakland Athletics and Willy Adames of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Franklin Barreto: A star for Venezuelan youth teams on the international circuit, Barreto was well-known to scouts and considered to be one of the top players available on the 2012 international market. Signed by the Toronto Blue Jays for $1,450,000, he was traded to the Athletics in the November 2014 Josh Donaldson deal. Barreto reached Triple-A at the end of 2016 and appeared in the majors for the first time this past June, though he spent most of 2017 in the Pacific Coast League with Nashville.
Willy Adames: Adames is from the Dominican Republic and was signed by the Detroit Tigers for $420,000 in 2012. He was traded to the Rays in the controversial July 2014 David Price trade, moved up to Double-A in 2016 and to Triple-A in 2016.
Comparison: Barreto had a higher profile as an amateur but Adames was not an unknown and has kept a similar career pace. Both were involved in blockbuster trades in 2014, both spent 2017 playing regularly in Triple-A, and both are looking for extended trials in 2018.
TOOLS, PHYSICALITY, AND HEALTH
Franklin Barreto: A right-handed hitter and thrower, he was born February 27th, 1996. He’s listed at 5-10, 190 though he looks a bit thicker than that. His best physical tool was running speed, which was 60-65 grade when he signed but has declined as he’s matured physically. He still runs well but may lose additional steps down the line. The tradeoff for the speed loss has been the development of more power than originally expected. Most of his homers are pulled but he’s strong enough to nail the occasional opposite field homer. His approach is aggressive and he had issues with contact in Triple-A and the majors. Barreto has split the last two seasons between shortstop and second base, with his range and arm strength probably fitting best at second long-term. He missed time in 2015 with a wrist injury but has been healthy the last two years.
Willy Adames: A right-handed hitter and thrower, Adames was born September 2nd, 1995 and is listed at 6-0, 200. Adames has average running speed which has declined a bit since he signed; that said, his power has grown since he’s matured physically and he has more physical strength than most middle infielders. This shows itself rather often as pull power although he can go the opposite way for distance. Although there’s some swing-and-miss in his game, Adames work counts and has a patient approach, helping his OBP. His arm is strong enough for shortstop but his range may be stretched there long-term. Adames has had no significant injuries.
Comparison: Barreto is six months younger and runs a little better than Adames, however both should produce similar power numbers down the line, possibly low double-digit homers with maturity. Adames has a better arm, but both may wind up at second base long-term if they lose too much range and flexibility as they get older. Adames has a more mature hitting approach.
Franklin Barreto: Barreto hit .290/.339/.456 in 2017 for Triple-A Nashville, with 27 walks, 141 strikeouts, 15 homers and 19 doubles in 469 at-bats. His wRC+ was 103. Promoted to the majors, he hit .197/.250/.352 in 71 at-bats with five walks and 33 strikeouts.
Willy Adames: Adames hit .277/.360/.415 in 2017 for Triple-A Durham, with 65 walks, 132 strikeouts, 10 homers and 30 doubles in 506 at-bats. His wRC+ was 119.
Comparison: Although Barreto had a prettier batting average and slash line, Adames actually had the stronger season when context is considered, given the more difficult environment of the International League compared to the Pacific Coast League.
Franklin Barreto: Barreto projects as a solid defensive second baseman who can play shortstop if needed, with doubles power and the potential to hit low double-digit homers. His batting average may be erratic due to contact issues and the vagaries of BABIP luck, but at age 21 he still has plenty of time to adapt.
Willy Adames: Adames projects as a solid to very good defensive second baseman who can play shortstop if needed, with doubles power and the potential to hit low double-digit homers. He’s not likely to hit for high averages but his ability to work counts and draw walks will helps his OBP. At 22 he has time to make adjustments.
Comparison: I think their profiles are rather similar. Adames has the advantage of a more refined approach and is a more productive hitter, at present, but Barreto is six months younger and no slouch himself, producing above-average numbers in Triple-A despite the flaws in his game. Both are still young enough to have projection left in their bats. Both are playable at shortstop but seem more likely to be playing second base five years from now.
Before the 2017 season began I had Barreto rated higher, with a Grade A- and ranked eighth on the Top 200 Prospects List. Adames wasn’t far behind with a B+/A-, ranked 16th.
Right now I would give both a B+/A-, with Adames a nose ahead since I think his approach will hold up better in the short run. Both remain elite prospects.