When I first started this gig back in September of 2019, I thought I was low on Jo Adell, ranking him sixth on my initial Top 25 Prospects for 2020 Fantasy Baseball. Given how frequently I see people cite his AAA line and bash his hit tool, I’m pretty sure I’m high on him.
One weird aspect of this whole thing is while Mike Trout’s ADP is sliding (6.2 in July NFBC drafts) due to his wife’s pregnancy and the quarantine that may take place on either side of the birth, Adell’s ADP is tanking (269.64 in July v. 230.04 pre-July) even as Brandon Marsh is out (for *wink* undisclosed reasons) in his attempt to return from the elbow injury that ended his Spring. Have to wonder if Adele’s sad songs are impacting our general optimism for Adell.
Back then I thought the price was high and that he looked odd in the box. His hands appear unprepared until it’s too late. It’s almost Sheffieldian. I can get pretty aesthetic in my approach at times. Having seen, played and coached a fair bit of baseball in my time, I know what I like in the batter’s box.
Here’s a video shot by Emily Waldon that shows the extraneous pre-pitch hand action and unique bat path that I believe is costing Jo Adell some of the prospect shine.
Part of the disconnect between what we see here and what we expect to see comes from the disconnect between Adell’s hips and hands. His base fires with extreme torque, and it looks like he fires early. Luis Robert has some of this extreme torque, which is why he can look particularly bad when he chases off speed. Hell, he can look bad when he connects, as the popular Twitter video this week showcased:
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) July 11, 2020
His base torque is so extreme–his lead hip clears out so far–that he sometimes struggles to maintain balance after the swing, and a lot of the scouts knocking his pitch recognition have likely seen him lose balance on a swing and miss. Maybe he doesn’t fall all the way to the ground every time a scout or writer sees this, but it’s the kind of thing that jumps out at a viewer, especially if he loses balance swinging and missing at strike three.
Same goes for Adell. Every home run does not come with a Griffey-style picturesque finish, bat in the air, majesty in a moment. Some of Adell’s home runs are downright goofy, opposite-field laser beams.
I thought his late hands would catch up to him someday. A lot of people thought the same of Gary Sheffield’s. In watching Adell this Spring against big league arms, I started to think this was egocentric aestheticism. I want baseball to look a certain way, and when it doesn’t, I want to hammer it back into the expected shape or at least criticize the outliers.
So far we’re just talking mechanics, but that’s all I’m here to do. That AAA line comes up in most Adell conversations, and I think some context is key. In Spring of 2019, Jo Adell hurt his hamstring and missed ten weeks of baseball, jumping back in at the AA level on May 24.
He’d played 17 games in AA in 2018 as a 19-year-old and held his own, slashing .238/.324/.429 for a 115 wRC+, or 15 percent better than league average.
A super small bit of context: his birthday is April 8, meaning he’s always young for his age-to-level, if that makes any sense. He’s not 20.8 in at the start of a season. He’s closer to 20.0 throughout the entire season than he is to 20.5.
Without Spring training in 2019 as a recently minted 20-year-old, Adell posted a 173 wRC+ across 43 AA games, slashing .308/.390/.553 while striking out 22.5 percent and walking 10.4 percent of the time.
At the same level but a few months younger in 2017, Ronald Acuna Jr. posted a 159 wRC+ across 57 games, slashing .326/.374/.520 while striking out 23 percent and walking 7.4 percent of the time.
One key difference here is Acuna is poetry in motion in the batter’s box. He’s all rounded curves, no rough edges. He’s Eva to the typical hitter’s Wall-e, and like Wall-e, I fell in love at first sight.
Acuna and Adell are very different players, is all I’m saying, and yet, Adell’s was comparable–maybe even better–at that level. He was also 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts, while Acuna was 19-for-30. That’s advantage Acuna in fantasy, of course. It’s not cut and dry like it appears at first glance given Adell’s success rate. If he ran more, he’d steal more, but stolen bases are largely a result of making that choice to steal. Adell hasn’t fully unleashed that aspect of his game, and maybe he won’t, but it’s certainly there if he makes that choice once he’s feeling comfortable and confident in the big leagues.
Which brings me to my next bit of context: the Angels pushed Adell to AAA when Mike Trout got hurt last year, perhaps thinking he could jump to the big leagues and keep the team’s waning contention fire alive. I highly doubt this was lost on Adell himself, who appears to have been pressing in his first look at AAA pitching.
In his first 19 games at the level from August 1 to August 24, Adell posted a 43 wRC+, slashing .226/.286/.298 while striking out 33.7 percent and walking 7.6 percent of the time.
In his final 8 AAA games from August 25 to September 2, he posted a 120 wRC+, slashing .351/.400/.486 while striking out 30 percent and walking 7.5 percent of the time.
Personally I’d throw the whole AAA line out, as is often wise with a very short burst at a new level at the end of a long season, and I’m guessing that 2.5 months of rehab to begin 2019 felt like a season in itself for Adell.
But if you’re going to use the AAA line to dismiss Adell, I recommend you view it in chunks like I have here. He’s closer to a .400 OBP player than he is a .286 OBP player, even as a guy who’s adjusting to a new level where he’s 6.3 years younger than the average.
To close this whole thing out, I’ll point to a piece for context, written by Maria Torres and published in the LA Times on June 30. I like GM Billy Eppler’s quote about there being “some upside to the intrasquad format” because that’s what I’ve been thinking about the teams with deep systems. Their prospects have an advantage in frequently facing talented players. The Angels, on the other hand, are not especially loaded with great pitching prospects, so if they want Jo Adell to face arms that challenge him every day, he’ll have to be in the big leagues.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter and Reddit.