San Diego is known for something besides sunshine.
It is a hotbed for baseball talent. And one position in particular stands out. The area has produced 25 major league catchers through the years.
San Diego catcher Riley Adams is eager to be the next in that line.
“I want to catch,” Adams said. “I love how involved you are in a game as a catcher. I get a feel for the umpire. I get a good vantage point seeing pitches. It helps me at the plate. I really enjoy catching just to get that feel for everything.
“I’m not where I want to be catching, but I’m showing the right signs and progressing the right way.”
Adams was voted a first-team Preseason All-American by major league scouting directors. USD coach Rich Hill knows exactly what drew their attention.
“He has so many tools that the pro people are just dreaming on him,” Hill said. “He’s 6-foot-4, 225 pounds getting off the bus and looks like Adonis. Start there.
“Then there’s the arm strength and the power and the makeup. He’s got everything. When he walks through the gate, all eyes are on him.”
While professional observers note Adams for his athleticism and plus arm strength, they also see a need to polish his receiving and presentation behind the plate.
Offensively, Adams displays above average power and a good sense of the strike zone. Adams has been putting up better numbers than any USD player not named Kris Bryant, who hit a school-record 31 homers with 62 RBIs in 2013 on the way to being named College Player of the Year.
In early May, Adams was hitting .323/.441/.581 with 11 home runs.
The junior is poised to be the latest in the recent line of high-profile prospects produced by the Toreros, joining infielders Bryant (first round, Cubs, 2013), Connor Joe (compensatory first, Pirates, 2014), Kyle Holder (Yankees, first, 2015) and Bryson Brigman (Mariners, third, 2016).
“The better he shows as a catcher, the more value he has,” said a longtime National League scout who has followed Adams in both high school and college. “With his frame, it may take him a little longer to become the catcher he would like to become. One thing he has going for him is that he’s athletic.”
The scout said Adams needs to relax more when he catches, that “he can be a little rigid at times.”
“He’s very intelligent, very smart behind the plate,” the scout said. “It’s just a matter of how he develops with the receiving part of it. That would be the one knock on him.”
Adams came late to catching. He was a shortstop through his freshman year of high school at San Diego’s Canyon Crest Academy, which is 20 miles north of the USD campus.
Adams said the varsity team didn’t have a catcher coming into his sophomore season and his coached asked him if he would give it a go.
“Early on, I just wanted to pick everything, because that’s what you’re used to at shortstop,” Adams said. “You’re not used to just trying to body up something. So getting past that hurdle of just letting the ball hit you and doing things like that was something I had to work through and I’m still working on. I think I’ve made big strides.”
Adams was soon consumed with catching. He enjoys being involved with every pitch.
“Every once in a while I’ll play a game at first base and have to find a way to keep my mind on it,” Adams said. “As a catcher, you’re always involved, thinking of the next move, the next thing you’re going to have to do.”
Hill said Adams has worked tirelessly to get better.
“He’s improving every day, and I think the evaluators can see that,” Hill said. “He’s really improved in blocking. We had 82 wild pitches last year. We’re half of that right now . . . He’s elevated his game. His throwing accuracy has improved drastically. The receiving thing is still a work in progress, but that’s usually the last thing to come, and it will.”
— Kirk Kenney is a sportswriter for the San Diego Union-Tribune.