The Matt Adams that we get to see at Hammons Field is the same Matt Adams that no one thought deserved to play Division I baseball, let alone deserve a 23rd round draft pick, a spot in Double-A or even a spot as one of baseball’s top first base prospects.
The Matt Adams that’s a legitimate Texas League triple crown contender with a .321 batting average, 24 home runs and 81 RBIS, isn’t supposed to be good enough.
The Matt Adams that’s a soft-spoken, humble guy with a habit of launching home runs on to the top of the Hammons Field training facility, has arrived as a player and a man.
See, Matt Adams didn’t belong in Division-I college baseball. At least that’s what they thought. So he went to Division-II Slippery Rock University and proved them wrong.
Adams, the Springfield Cardinals‘ first baseman, grew up in Philipsburg, a small town in central Pennsylvania. During his senior year in high school, he turned enough heads to get a scholarship offer to play baseball at the University of Pittsburgh, but at the last minute they told him they didn’t have room.
“They just over-recruited,” Adams said, “and me being the smaller town guy, they thought I wasn’t capable of playing up to their level.”
Pitt told Adams he had a spot on the team, but he would have to walk-on, which he couldn’t afford. So Adams decided to sign at Slippery Rock, where his high school coach played college ball. Slippery Rock head coach Jeff Messer said he couldn’t help but smile when Pitt passed on Adams.
“We knew what we were getting and we were very excited that Pitt wasn’t the place to go and he chose to go to Slippery Rock,” Messer said. “It was a no-brainer that he was going to be a very good player for us.”
His freshman year, he showed the Panthers what they were missing, leading Slippery Rock with a .421 average, 24 doubles and five home runs. He was upset that Pittsburgh turned him down, but he was determined to make the best of things at Slippery Rock.
“I tried to fit in with the guys they had on the team and just adjust to it and go about my business the right way there,” Adams said.
Adams led the Rock in batting average, doubles, home runs and RBIs his next two seasons. His junior year, he won the Division-II batting title with a .495 batting average.
“That was with people pitching around him,” Messer said. “From his freshman year on, the conference was pretty aware of what he was capable of doing so a lot of the offensive numbers he put up were with guys pitching around him.”
After his junior season, he decided it was time to move on — to the pros.
Matt Adams didn’t belong in the first 22 rounds of the draft. At least that’s what they thought. So the Cardinals grabbed him in the 23rd round.
Adams is a very humble guy, but he is also confident of what caliber player he is. He decided that if they didn’t see it right away, well, he would just make sure they noticed eventually.
Phillip Wellman, Adams’ hitting coach in Springfield, said that this quality is what makes Adams the player he is.
“He’s extremely humble and that’s what allows him to stay on an even keel and keep a positive attitude,” Wellman said. “There’s not much that gets him down and I think that’s an element in any player’s ability to improve is to admit what your weaknesses are.”
If Adams had many weaknesses, they certainly weren’t apparent his first two years in the minors. He worked his way through two rookie leagues and Low-A by doing what he’s always done: drive the ball gap to gap, hit for average, hit for power and drive in runs. Adams is a big guy, listed at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds (admittedly a little bigger), but he’s at his best when he’s lining the ball into the gaps instead of swinging for the fences.
In the 2010 season, Adams hit .310 with 41 doubles in Low-A. The Cardinals decided that the 699th overall pick in the 2009 draft had suddenly become a prospect.
Matt Adams didn’t belong in High-A. At least that’s what they thought. So the Cardinals sent him straight to Springfield to start the season in Double-A.
“There’s a reason why there’s different levels,” Wellman said. “You progress normally one level to the next. Him skipping a level, we knew he might hit a few bumps in the road. In the meetings we all believed the kind of person he was and the attitude that he possesses was going to allow him to overcome any bumps in the road, and he has.”
The bumps came early for Adams, he struggled in the first two weeks of the season, rushing his swing and trying to do too much. He credits Wellman with helping him get back on track.
“I was rushing everything with my load and my set up,” Adams said. “He taught me how to slow things down and get into a good hitting position.”
It has been working ever since. This season, Adams is hitting .321/.374/.606. He also leads the team with 21 doubles, 24 home runs and 81 RBIs.
The left-handed Adams has that textbook swing that looks effortless. He stays compact the whole time and then explodes to the ball and follows through with great fluidity. He’ll say it’s a product of going to the batting cage everyday, but there’s some things you just can’t teach.
“I think at birth, he was a hitter,” Messer said. “A lot of people want to take credit for what he does with the bat, I’m not going to do that. He’s just a born hitter.”
The big league Cardinals have been set at first base for the past decade or so with Albert Pujols. So all of a sudden, Adams, the 23rd round pick, kept coming up in all kinds of trade rumors. We will have a much better idea of Adams’ place in the organization when Pujols becomes a free agent this offseason. Adams isn’t too worried about all that, he’s just going to keep doing what he always has: work hard and get hits.
“I don’t really pay attention,” Adams said. “I just let it do its thing and come to the ballpark ready to play.”
For now he is enjoying minor league life as much as he can, but he definitely has his eyes on bigger things.
“The longer he’s here, you realize that he has an innate ability to make adjustments on the fly,” Wellman said. “Those are the characteristics you find in a big league hitter, I have no doubt in my mind someday we’re going to be watching him play on TV.”
Major League Baseball may finally be the place where Matt Adams belongs, no matter what they think.