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Then & Now: Austin Adams

Then & Now: Austin Adams
January 10, 2013
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Cutter, curve, slurve, splitter, slider, screwball and changeup. Everybody seems to have his or her opinion on what’s the most effective baseball pitch.

Though even with all the sexy pitch-types out there, sometimes it just does not get any better than a classic, plus-fastball. Austin Adams would probably agree.

The 5-foot, 11-inch right-hander has been in the Tribe’s system since 2009, and most have labeled his fastball as his inevitable ticket to the Major Leagues.  Adams was drafted by the Indians in the 5th Round of the 2009 Draft out of Faulkner University, and has had quite the ride since then.

From the getgo, Adams has been somewhat of a project player as he played shortstop at Faulkner.  However, Adams has continually made strides since being developed as a pitcher, and many baseball experts, locally and nationally, believed that he was positioned to become a breakout prospect in 2012.

Yet, unfortunately, 2012 ended up being a lost season for Adams, who had an impingement in his right shoulder during spring training and eventually ended up having surgery on the shoulder. The injury cost Adams the entire 2012 season.

Shoulder surgery is no joke, so Adams’ Major League future is now very much up in the air.

Then:

As stated previously, Adams’ college playing experience was as shortstop, so he immediately faced an uphill battle upon joining the Indians system in 2009. However, the Indians were committed to developing Adams as a pitcher, and it was hard to blame them.

Everybody loves some heat, and Adams’ fastball was blazing hot. The offering could sit at 96 mph and even touch triple-digits when Adams put something extra on it.

Things initially did not go great for Adams after he made his professional debut, but given his lack of professional experience, that probably should be expected. In 2009, as a 22-year-old at Single-A Mahoning Valley, Adams went 3-1 with a 4.86 ERA while pitching 37 innings in 17 games.

While the numbers were far from great, they’re somewhat understandable when you consider that Adams was still learning all of the various facets of becoming a professional pitcher. However, in 2010, it appeared as if the Indians began to reap the benefits of making the decision to convert Adams to a pitcher.

That season, Adams went 8-5 in 26 games (20 starts) and 112 innings between Single-A Lake County and High-A Kinston. Adams also displayed some pretty good strikeout stuff as he punched out nine batters per nine innings that season. His control was also solid as he walked just 2.9 batters per nine innings.

Following that season, there were some questions as to how Adams would be developed moving forward. Because of his small stature, some seemed to believe that he would best be suited as a reliever for fear that his body might not hold up. Also, the fact that he really only had two very good offerings (fastball, curveball) again seemed to convince some that Adams might be a better relief option than starter.

However, the Indians top brass obviously thought otherwise as they continued to develop Adams as a starter. Adams must have appreciated their confidence in him as he paid the team back with an outstanding 2011 season. In 26 starts with Double-A Akron, Adams went 11-10 with a 3.77 ERA in 136 innings. He also struck out 131 batters (8.7 K/9).

Adams’ WHIP of 1.544 and 63 walks (4.2 BB/9) showed that he still had plenty of room for improvement, but it was hard not to be satisfied with a guy who was just in his third professional season as a pitcher.

Adams seemed poised to move up to Triple-A in 2012 and immediately become a potential Major League option. But, as we all know, that next part of the story never got written this past season.

Now:

Following the 2011 season, Adams’ stock really started to rise. Baseball experts began to take notice of his stuff, and he was immediately regarded as arguably the Indians top starting pitching option in the upper levels of the team’s farm system.

For instance, the IBI’s Tony Lastoria had Adams ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the entire Indians system prior to the 2012 season.

Adams received the same ranking from Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus had Adams ranked No. 4 in the Indians system. For a number of reasons, many seemed to believe he could have a major Major League impact, no pun intended.

However, Adams’ 2012 season was unfortunately over before it began. Aside from receiving an invite to spring training, everything was basically downhill for Adams in 2012. The right-shoulder surgery prematurely ended his season, and Adams was unable to pitch even one inning of minor league ball.

Future:

Hopefully, the future is still bright for Adams, and hopefully, he has a future in the Major Leagues.

Shoulder surgery on a pitcher’s throwing shoulder is always a big deal and something that will certainly monitored closely. Because of that, Adams will like spend a decent amount of the 2013 season in extended spring training once he is fully ready to throw again.

Provided he does not have any setbacks, one would imagine that Adams would likely see some time at Akron and Triple-A Columbus in 2013. The question is in what role will Adams see this time?

The shoulder injury of last year seemed to confirm what many had feared in regard to Adams. Because of his small size, some had previously thought that he might be susceptible to the injury bug as a starting pitcher. Could the surgery be evidence that Adams should go back into the bullpen? 

Or, what if Adams just experienced a taste of bad luck? He really has been healthy for much of his professional career, so bad luck may be a more applicable explanation.

One thing is for sure, however. Arms like Adams’ do not just grow on trees, and the right-hander arguably has the best fastball in the Tribe’s system. So, if the team is looking to maximize the usage of its talent, how do you think Adams should be developed when he returns to the Indians? Seems like a no-brainer, right? 

Previous Then & Now profiles:

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Shy
January 10, 2013 - 7:06 PM EST
I remember when Adams worked out for the Yankees- he was around 94-95 but he was throwing to the glove, not to batters. He was more 92-93 A/AA. Sturdevant, Salazar, Armstrong, Haley, Rondon, Baker, Allen, Hagadone and Hermann and even Flores and Fabio are probably faster but as you say Tony- location, movement, change of speed, deception and instinct are what sets the successful hard throwers apart from the brain dead heavers. I reallly don't know where Adams fits in. Lets see how he looks coming out of surgery and after rehab. A lot of guys particularly w Tommy John (UCL) surgery come back healthier and throw harder than before injury, probably because of the intensive rehab strength training. Shoulders- they are usually more problematic. He's a cool kid, hope he comes back strong,
Tony
January 10, 2013 - 4:08 PM EST
No, neither Adams or Baker have the kind of fastball Haley has. Not before or after Adams' injury. As for whether a guy starts or relieves, it pretty much comes down to stuff, consistency, having at least three average pitches, and most importantly space. Remember, there are only 5 rotation spots at each level. 20 total rotation spots from Columbus down to Lake County. It's tough to keep everyone starting. It gets crowded, and for reasons above, those guys are pushed out of a starting role.
Chip
January 10, 2013 - 3:09 PM EST
It aggravates me when pitching prospects are automatically religated to the bullpen without proving they can't start. How many bullpen arms do you need? Are bullpen arms thin in this system? Are they deep in starting pitching prospects? Why do alot of people label a prospect a relief pitcher based on height? There is no correlation with size and durability that I know of. I thought it had more to do with effort and delivery.
Roger
January 10, 2013 - 2:30 PM EST
was his fastball prior to 2012 as good as haley's was in 2012 or what baker is expected to bring. Hopefully the shoulder trouble is behind him. I dont think he can be effective with less heat. I have read the scouting reports on him. so he may be one of many power reliefers in our system. But most important lets hope he comes back healthy i hate to see a brilliant prospect ruined thru no fault of their own. Tony i think has been tweeting with him and i am sure he knows how the rehab is coming along. I am sure his star isnt as bright as before but if healthy with no loss of heat he still i s bright star of the future.

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