Chance Adams had a rough day at the office on Wednesday, to say the least. The 24-year-old allowed a leadoff walk to start the bottom of the first inning. Two doubles, a single, and a triple later, and his day was done. The brutal afternoon likely hampered what was already an incredibly slim chance for Adams to make the Opening Day roster. His struggles also offer an opportunity to look at his career as a whole, and where it could be headed.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s only one spring training start. Bad games happen, and one outing shouldn’t dictate the course of an entire season, or even a spring. But does Adams carry the promise he once did when he was making his way up the minor league ranks? Should he have ever had that kind of promise attached to him? His stat line through the minors was certainly attractive, but looking a little deeper, there are some concerning trends.
Let’s look back to Adams’ 2016 season, when he posted a 2.07 ERA in Double-A with a ground ball rate of 46 percent in 69.2 innings. His FIP was 3.33, which is not bad at all, but it was the first time his FIP was higher than 2.51 since the righty started his professional career. Unfortunately, that trend continued. Adams began the 2017 season still in Double-A, and through 35 innings, pitched to a spectacular 1.03 ERA. On the other hand, his FIP rose to 3.51, while his ground ball rate dropped six percent. The numbers on the back of his baseball card looked good, but there was definitely a concerning trend taking place.
Adams was quickly promoted to Triple-A in 2017 and maintained a respectable 2.89 ERA. He finished his stint in Scranton with a 3.76 FIP. His total xFIP for the 2017 season was north of four, suggesting hitters were starting to square up a pitcher who was touted for his ability to nibble the corners and pitch down in the zone.
The 2018 season was easily Adams’ worst, as he recorded a 4.87 FIP in Triple-A. In his defense, he had offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow, and it’s possible that had a lasting impact. His velocity did drop to 91-93 mph, as opposed to his usual fastball range of 93-95. Now a full year removed from surgery, Adams’ velocity should be fully returned by now.
Still, the command is an issue, especially for a pitcher who primarily uses a fastball/slider combo, and lacks a good third pitch. Luis Severino, who has better natural stuff than Adams, famously had to discover a changeup to become a prolific starter. However, Adams’ inferior velocity and command would make such a path even more difficult.
This isn’t meant to be complete gloom for Adams, but he’s 24 now, and the signs point to his place likely being in the bullpen, as his initial ceiling of a third starter seems to have been too bullish. Part of that could have been the surgery and velocity dip, but looking at the numbers, Adams was headed in the wrong direction even before the surgery.
Who knows, maybe Adams’ velocity returns and he becomes an asset in the bullpen, much like Chad Green and Jonathan Holder. Just don’t expect him in the big league rotation. His downward spiral in prospect rankings suggest that he is bullpen-bound.