Jo Adell has learned not to get comfortable in the minor leagues.
The Los Angeles Angels promoted the No. 10 overall draft pick in 2017 to Triple-A Salt Lake at the start of August. The climb up the organizational ladder has certainly been swift for the 20-year-old, who hasn’t spent more than 63 games at the same level.
“I think [Angels general manager] Billy [Eppler] and the team, front office, have put a challenge on me,” Adell told Yahoo Sports. “Every time I've shown that I'm comfortable and I can handle a lot more, I've moved.”
As fast a rise as it’s been for Adell as a pro, he hasn’t forgotten to take with him a piece of advice from his father, Scott, a former North Carolina State tackle and New Orleans Saints draft pick.
“It's important to realize that you are where you are because of the things that you do well,” Adell said. “He's always told me to never lose sight of that, and never lose sight of my natural abilities and what I can contribute.”
What he can contribute was pretty clear to his parent organization.
On Thursday, the Angels tabbed Adell as their Minor League Player of the Year. He was sidelined until late May after sustaining an ankle injury in spring training, but compiled a .279/.355/.481 with 10 homers, 22 doubles and 31 RBIs in 66 total games at three different levels.
“He’s a five-tool player — he hits for average and power, he can run, field and throw,” Eppler told Baseball America. “As far as athleticism and power, his size, speed and strength — the trifecta that we look for — he checks all of those boxes. His play will let us know what his timetable is.”
Adell’s entree into the Pacific Coast League didn’t start out so smoothly. He struck out 27 times in his first 17 games and struggled to a .216 average.
Things began to perk up Wednesday night in Tacoma when he homered twice in the first three innings. It would have been his third multi-hit effort in the past six games, but the contest was washed out before it could become official. Adell is technically still in search of his first Triple-A homer.
After having sustained success at every other level of the minors, the Louisville, Kentucky, native felt he had a quick diagnosis for his early offensive troubles in Triple-A.
“It's been me missing pitches that I want to do damage with,” he said. “It's been an adjustment for me to kind of understand what [opposing pitchers] are going to try to do to me, and attack and not try to beat myself.”
Adell has been intrigued by the pitching talent, many of whom have major league experience, at the highest level of the minors. He explained that Triple-A is more of a test of focus and the hurdles have been more mental than physical.
But he was also presented with a separate challenge earlier this year with Double-A Mobile, where he eventually posted a .308 average. It’s a challenge that will likely have the most profound impact on the career arc for the natural center fielder. But it also confirms that he’s already weighing into the Angels’ future plans.
Uh-Oh... Jo Adell might have found his power stroke. Good luck PCL pic.twitter.com/ZlMS56SNVN— Salt Lake Bees (@SaltLakeBees) August 22, 2019
It should come as no shock that the Angels envision Trout to be their center fielder moving forward, which has pushed Adell into a corner outfield spot.
“I'm here to contribute in any way possible,” Adell said. “If I can put myself in a certain position, I'm not going to say that I see myself playing X, Y, Z, and batting in this part of the lineup … wherever I can contribute, I'll be happy with that.”
Ray Olmedo currently serves as the fielding coach for Salt Lake after a six-year major league career as a utility infielder for three different teams. Based on the small sample, which also includes a laser throw to cut down a runner at the plate, Olmedo feels Adell has settled nicely into right field — where Gold Glover Kole Calhoun plays for the major league team.
Adell has played center in 92 of 151 (60.9%) total games in the field, and 42 games in right. So far, he’s only played 17 games in left, where the Angels have Justin Upton under contract through the next three years.
“He's going to have to play in different positions,” Olmedo said, explaining that Adell has shown a willingness to learn more about each spot. “He always asking how the little shifts are working, and that's why we're here. To help and make sure they understand what is important for the club.”
Moving from center field to a corner spot is no easy task, even for a player with Adell’s elite athleticism. For center fielders, the ball, for the most part, comes off the bat without any mystery. But balls hit to the corners often come with a trajectory similar to that of a golf ball that was shanked off the tee.
In addition to figuring out new reads off the bat, Adell and all outfielders and pitchers in Triple-A have to contend with a major change to the sport.
🚨🚨🚨🚨 FIRST TRIPLE-A HOMER FOR JO ADELL 🚨🚨🚨🚨 pic.twitter.com/FlaMP9iLPH— Salt Lake Bees (@SaltLakeBees) August 22, 2019
Beginning this season, both the International and Pacific Coast Leagues started using the same ball that’s used in the majors.
The so-called “juiced” baseball has led to mammoth power production. Last season, there were 3,652 total homers hit by all 30 Triple-A teams. There’s already been 5,340 hit this season as of Friday. The International League — which is traditionally more pitcher-friendly than the PCL — has already combined for more homers than the PCL for all of last season.
“It's the first thing you notice … you kind of have to proceed with caution,” Adell said. “That's kind of been the adjustment to need to play everything back, not give up the extra base.”
Playing deeper in the outfield, Adell has noticed that most anything hit over his head is leaving the yard. This should obviously help him at the plate, but he’s seen more of the wrong side of that double-edged sword on offense so far in Triple-A.
Olmedo has noted the change, but, given the purpose to develop major league talent, he’s adjusted accordingly. His job has been aided by position mapping, shifting fielders to different spots for specific hitters based on data compiled by the major league club.
“You teach all these guys how to get quick to the ball,” Olmedo said. “It's like, first step, angle, read the swing.”
Adell has the tools to do just about everything well, and as evidenced by his meteoric rise, it’s helped him to learn new things quickly. Perhaps he can soon be one of the final pieces that can propel the Angels to their first postseason series victory in the Trout era.
The Angels already have a crowded outfield, and Adell isn’t far from inserting himself into the mix. Upton’s contract is nearly as much of a behemoth as Albert Pujols’, and the two are practically immovable. With Pujols and Shohei Ohtani, the designated hitter role is pretty much occupied as well.
Since Trout’s debut in 2011, the Angels have only had six seasons in which a pitcher posted at least a 2.9 WAR — which would have made them a top-30 pitcher in that category last year.
None of those five (Jered Weaver hit that mark twice in 2011 and 2012) pitchers are still with the organization and three (Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren) are retired. Matt Shoemaker (3.5 WAR in 2016) is currently out for the season with the Toronto Blue Jays and Garrett Richards (4.3 WAR in 2014) is on the San Diego Padres, still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Angels’ payroll is nearly $25 million lighter next season, but $19.5 million is tied up in club options for Calhoun — who’s currently occupying Adell’s most stable corner outfield spot in right — and current Oakland A’s reliever Yusmeiro Petit ($5.5 million).
There’s a talented crop of free agent pitchers set to hit the market this season, headlined by southern California native Gerrit Cole, current National League Cy Young frontrunner Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner.
If the Angels feel Adell can crack the roster by opening day — which is two weeks before his 21st birthday — or soon after, it should provide the club with enough wiggle room to pull off a deal with a front-end starter.
But Adell will have to take it one challenge at a time. Even if the task is just to get there.
“Anyway that I can help, I'm all in for,” he said. “We all want to win. That's something that we have the talent to do.
“Definitely something I think about is how can we do this? How can we turn this team into something special?”
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