Jo Adell endured a dismal rookie season for the Angels in 2020, hitting .161 and striking out nearly 42 percent of the time. His results left questions — at least among some evaluators — about how the former top prospect might rebound when he returned to the major leagues.
Adell answered capably Tuesday night, reaching base four times and driving in three runs in his first game in the majors this season, an 11-3 victory against the Rangers. He went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a walk and a stolen base in a big-league reboot after starting the season at Triple-A Salt Lake City.
Angels manager Joe Maddon welcomed Adell’s results, but he was even more encouraged by how Adell went about getting them. Maddon noted a “quieter” swing that gives Adell a better chance to “hit good pitching” and reduce his strikeouts, along with Adell’s advantageous baserunning.
“Everybody's going to focus on hits. I'm focusing on process — with him especially,” Maddon said. “I thought his process was outstanding today. I really liked the baserunning and the command of the strike zone. Those are the two things that are going to make him a good major league player. The nuance of the game.”
Not surprisingly, Adell said it was a better feeling to experience success, especially because it helped the Angels win. They went 14-19 in games he started a season ago.
“I spent a lot of the offseason working on some of the things that challenged me last season,” Adell said. “You grind in order to have performances that help the team win. When the work pays off and you see it on the stage like this, it feels good.”
• In his first plate appearance in the second inning, Adell worked a seven-pitch walk against right-hander Jordan Lyles. “I thought he laid off some borderline pitches,” Maddon said.
• In the next inning, he lined a 101.4 mph double to left to push across Justin Upton and Phil Gosselin. “He's got a big-league setup right now,” Maddon said of Adell’s batting stance.
• In the sixth, Adell grounded out to third.
• In the seventh, he hit an RBI single to left against reliever Dennis Santana.
• In the ninth, Adell hit a second double, against a hanging breaking ball from reliever Josh Sborz.
Maddon’s favorite Adell moment followed, when he tagged up and took third base on a sacrifice fly to right by José Iglesias.
“That was the most impressive thing,” Maddon said.
Improving yourself as a ballplayer is hard enough, but it’s an even greater challenge during a pandemic. MLB continued its season in ‘20 despite experiencing interruptions, needing to implement different rules, navigating health-related restrictions, playing in empty stadiums, and the very scary circumstance of not having a vaccine available yet. In addition, the minor leagues were closed for business.
Adell and others like him didn’t enjoy the luxury of having a typical rookie season, which usually includes a full spring Spring Training, everyday gameplay starting in April, and an easier place to land if you struggle in the majors, as Adell did. In any other season when a player is hitting .161/.212/.266 in 124 at-bats, they’d probably be sent down. Only, there really wasn’t anywhere to send Adell that offered the help he needed. So he just had to ride it out until the offseason and, later, Spring Training in February.
Being able to play every day at Triple-A since early May has made a huge difference. Adell was batting .289/.342/.592 with 23 home runs and eight stolen bases in 339 plate appearances for Salt Lake City.
“At the end of the day, it’s more being able to continue to play, being in every day, and just getting the rhythm of what I was doing and finding that comfort,” Adell said.
“In a season as short as last year, the toughest part was jumping into that groove. There was really no time to struggle.”
Maddon doesn’t think the pandemic-related awkwardness of MLB 2020 necessarily hindered Adell’s development, but not being able to work his way through struggles in the minors definitely set him back.
“Time. He needed a full season,” Maddon said. “A lot of guys were deprived of that, and that’s where some guys are catching up right now. You just can’t underestimate the impact that could have on development. You need at-bats, you need to be able to work on your craft, you need to push through plateaus to get to another level, you need to have those ‘epiphany moments,’ and you just can’t have them in a 60-game season. That’s why the minor leagues are so important.”
Adell adheres to a belief that the failure he went through in 2020 informs any progress he’s made and will help sustain him.
“I wouldn't take that back,” Adell said. “It’s all adversity that made me who I am.”
Adell’s debut came a day later than he and the Angels intended; he was delayed for about four hours in Albuquerque after the first flight out Monday morning was canceled. Adell arrived at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas about 30 minutes before the first pitch. Too late to prepare to play.
“I was bummed,” Adell said.
But also patient, and confident enough, to know that his day would come again soon.