Few prospects in the Yankees’ system generate as much discussion as Chance Adams. Fans rally around the 23-year-old, citing his successful transformation from relief pitcher to starter. The front office, on the other hand, demonstrates its position through inaction. Adams has yet to crack the 40-man roster.
Pointing out this disconnect, while important in its own right, only scratches the surface. The more interesting questions, however, reside at the next level. For example, what explains this discrepancy? What can he do to bridge that gap? And, on top of it all, how does Adams fit into the Yankees’ future? While Opening Day remains nearly two weeks away, the information needed to answer these questions is largely handy.
Informational asymmetry represents the largest culprit behind the difference in perception over Adams. Fans and observers have to rely exclusively on minor league numbers to get a picture of the young right-hander. By pulling up his page on FanGraphs, one would assume he’s a top prospect. After all, he owned a 2.45 ERA across 150.1 innings last season. He spent most of his time at Triple-A, too. On paper, that’s really good! When a prospect has some level of name recognition and those results, it’s easy to understand fan excitement.
Those numbers, however, don’t tell a complete story. In fact, they can be rather misleading from a team’s perspective. A pitcher of Adams’ raw talent has the capacity to overwhelm batters with his fastball alone, particularly at the minor league level. The Yankees know this. They want to see more from him, though, which explains why they have kept him off the 40-man roster. Former Yankees manager Joe Girardi succinctly captured the organization’s view last summer: “We still feel kind of that he has more work to do.”
This is the same phenomenon responsible for the Rob Refsnyder disappointment. During the nascent days of the Yankees’ farm system, fans developed an infatuation with the infielder. This makes sense, because he was the only prospect who hit, and he fielded a position that proved a blackhole at the big league level. The team continued to roll with the likes of Brian Roberts and Stephen Drew, though, because Refsnyder wasn’t as good as the numbers showed. As it turns out, the Yankees were right. They have the better information.
What can Adams do to close this gap? Scouts and evaluators tend to agree that his shortcomings boil down to two areas. First, he struggles with the command of his fastball. He also lacks a refined changeup. He technically has one, but it needs work. To his credit, he’s working to iron out both of these issues already.
“It’s a very important pitch,” Adams told the New York Daily News about his changeup. “Against lefties, everything is going into them, so it’s nice to have something that goes away.”
Unfortunately, this strategy didn’t work out in spring training. Adams tossed 4.2 innings in Grapefruit League action and posted an 11.57 ERA. It’s tough to assess spring numbers, but they can’t be discounted out of hand. Adams gave up a ton of hard contact against big league batters, which shows he isn’t quite ready for the next level. After a rough outing against the Orioles —- one that saw him surrender a big home run to Jonathan Schoop — Adams was optioned back to Triple-A.
Given that he won’t break camp with the Yankees, it’s reasonable ask what’s next for the right-hander. On the one hand, he could see time in the Bronx out of the bullpen. Many evaluators and commentators suggest this as the most likely outcome. That includes ESPN prospect guru Keith Law and Pinstripe Alley’s own Josh Diemert. “Adams had solid results,” explained Law, “but the delivery and pitch mix don’t match the performance, and I think his future is in relief.”
Others, however, maintain hope in Adams as a starter. That includes Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who named him as a potential sixth starter. If the need arises during the season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make a spot start. No team relies on just five starters anymore — the 2018 Rays are the exception, but that’s a weird situation — so he very well could earn a place in the rotation.
The most controversial option, however, is a trade involving the right-hander. It’s not out of the question either because the Yankees have tried to move Adams before. According to Dan Federico, Cashman attempted to include Adams in the package for Sonny Gray last summer. The A’s rejected the offer, however, insisting on James Kaprielian. Adams also was purported to have been offered in a potential Gerrit Cole trade earlier this winter. The Yankees haven’t been afraid to make offers with Adams in the past, suggesting he could remain on the market.
Ultimately, Adams remains a talented yet flawed prospect. He’s a good pitcher, but the hype has boiled over. His future could very well end up in the bullpen or another organization entirely. I like Adams, and hope he succeeds as a starter for the Yankees. That’s the optimal outcome. It’s just worth tempering expectations, or one runs the risk of revisiting the Refsnyder dilemma.