TEMPE, Ariz. — Jo Adell has been famous for a long time, so he’s used to playing games in front of dozens of scouts and executives chronicling and scrutinizing his every move. But when he went to Los Angeles for his pre-draft workout this spring, one onlooker brought a much bigger cachet.
Angels outfielder Mike Trout, on the disabled list at the time with a thumb injury, was at Angels Stadium getting an eyeful of some of the players who might one day become his teammates. There’s obviously pressure to perform in front of your potential future employers, but having the best player in baseball in the stands brings a whole new element to the table.
“It was a little different. You want to show that you belong,” Adell said, “but I’ve always been one of these guys that understands that, hey, baseball is a tough sport but you have to just do what you can do and it is what it is.”
The Angels liked enough of what they saw from Adell that day and throughout his high school career to draft him with the 10th overall pick out of Ballard HS in Louisville and hand him a signing bonus of $4,376,800.
He comes with top-of-the-scale athleticism, an undeniable work ethic forged through long days of workouts in high school and the smarts to self-diagnose his own weakness and set to work immediately to make improvements. That combination helped him thrive in his first taste of professional ball.
Combined between two Rookie-levels, Adell went .325/.376/.532 with five home runs and 30 RBIs over 49 games. Those numbers helped him take home the No. 1 ranking in our Pioneer League Top 20 Prospects and No.2 on the Arizona League’s list as well.
“He’s embraced everything we’ve tried to do and tried to incorporate with him,” Angels GM Billy Eppler said. “He’s very open-minded and very passionate about the game. Whether it’s been instruction from our hitting coordinator Jeremy Reed or whether it’s been it’s from our director of baseball development Mike Gallego or whether it’s been Jon Nunnally, he’s eager to learn and he can apply things pretty quick because he’s blessed with an awful lot of athletic ability.”
Although he didn’t take the bat off his shoulder on Thursday during the Angels’ instructional league game with the Giants—he was hit by a pitch once and walked in his second and final plate appearance—Adell still showed glimpses of his talent.
The instructional league has been Adell’s first taste of defense as a pro after a shoulder issue limited him to a DH-only role during the regular season, but on Tuesday he looked to have shaken off the rust. He made a pair of difficult catches look easy in center field, using quick first steps and well above-average speed to glide to balls directly behind him and in the left-center field gap.
And although his final summer as an amateur bordered on the implausible—he hit three home runs in a game and 21 overall while striking out just seven times—a good portion of the instruction the Angels have given Adell revolves around his offense. The pitching in pro ball is obviously much better than what he saw in high school, and now he’s working on learning to better pick out pitches on which to unleash his massive power.
“Understanding his decision-making in the batter’s box and his general approach at the plate,” Eppler said. “Trying to think his way through at bats and understand how pitchers are trying to attack him. He’s learning to just be patient with his approach, look for a pitch he can drive and put everything he’s got in his swing on it.”
As a pro, opponents will get detailed scouting reports on Adell’s hot and cold zones at the plate. Pitchers will make game plans around him, and defenses may shift their alignment based on his tendencies. But he knows his body and his swing, and has a pretty good idea of how pitchers will attempt to get him out come Opening Day next season.
“Playing high school baseball, I could get to pretty much any pitch that was thrown. Now, facing professional pitching, you can’t cover every hole in the plate,” Adell said. “So, for me, I try to keep it simple. I know I have really long arms, so the inside pitch is always going to be something that’s tough for me.
So I’ve found that I can really drive that middle-away fastball and middle-away pitches in general. I really just try to simplify and say, ‘Look, if I have to swing at the pitch on the inside corner and I’m late in the count, I’m going to try to fight it off and I’m just going to really try to work the middle-outside of the plate and try to drive it and get a barrel on it.”
It’s that ability to evaluate and adapt that sets Adell apart in the minds of the Angels’ brass. The minor leagues are bursting with players who can throw baseballs 95 mph and hit them 400 feet. The ones who can pinpoint their own weaknesses and take the necessary steps to fix them, however, are rare.
Adell has only been with the Angels for four months, but already farm director Mike LaCassa has seen those kind of separating traits in him.
“We have a lot of group conversations, and just the other day he was talking about his two-strike approach,” LaCassa said. “What pitch he thinks that he could get to best. It sounded like a big leaguer was talking to the room. He has a really good feel for that after just being in pro ball for under four months now.”
If Adell continues showing the same blend of skills and savvy as he ascends the minor league ladder, one day he might find himself back in Los Angeles with Trout. Only this time they’ll be teammates.
Thaiss Is Nice
The Angels were also pleased with the season their 2016 first-round pick, first baseman Matt Thaiss, put together in his first full year as a pro. The former catcher at Virginia hit .274/.375/.395 with nine homers combined between high Class A Inland Empire and Double-A Mobile.
Those numbers don’t jump off the page, especially for a corner bat, but Eppler likes the way they look when put in context considering Thaiss’ age and experience.
“He’s a very patient hitter. He’s got extreme bat-to-ball ability. He uses the whole field, and we’re noticing a strength and conditioning aspect to him with a lot of increased strength and increased power output,” the GM said. “We’re very pleased that he moved very quick and he did pretty well in Double-A as a 22-year-old.”
Thaiss will continue to work on his all-around game on Tuesday when the Arizona Fall League gets underway.
Earning Their Wings
Adell was the biggest name on the field on Thursday, but there were a couple of other players who stood out. Righthander Wilkel Hernandez, an 18-year-old Venezuelan whom the Angels signed out of Venezuela two years ago, showed a loose, live arm and the makings of a three-pitch mix.
He struggled with control and command over his two innings, but he featured a lively 92-94 mph fastball as well as a changeup in the high-80s and a developing curveball that showed flashes of depth and bite in the mid-70s.
“There’s a lot to dream on there, both with body, delivery and arm action,” Eppler said, referring both to Hernandez and starter Jose Soriano. “In Wilkel’s case, refinement of the breaking ball has been a point of emphasis this instructional league.”
Outfielder Trent Deveaux also impressed on Thursday. Facing Giants righthander Tyler Cyr, a 24-year-old who won Best Reliever in this year’s Eastern League Best Tools ballot and who is headed to the AFL next week, Deveaux smashed the first pitch he saw—a 93 mph fastball—to the base of the wall in left field and then blazed around the bases for a triple.
He’s the fastest runner in the Angels’ system, and he’s one of the few who can challenge Adell for the title of the organization’s best athlete.