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Jo Adell: ‘Why are we ‘raw and toolsy’ and considered ‘high-risk?’’

Adell talked about experiencing racial bias in an interview with The Undefeated.

Cincinnati Reds v. Los Angeles Angels Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Angels outfielder Jo Adell, the club’s top prospect and a consensus top-10 prospect in baseball, talked with Jerry Bembry at The Undefeated about a variety of topics.

Adell described how he’s dealt with baseball being shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, and the ensuing labor talks between players and owners to start things up again.

He also described how all that has been overshadowed by the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor (in Adell’s hometown of Louisville), and George Floyd, and the protests that have followed. “I find myself consumed less with the return of baseball, and more with the challenges that black people in this country are experiencing,” Adell said.

Adell also talked about his many experiences of being judged differently because of the color of his skin, including as a budding high school prospect before he was drafted:

I was judged even as I was being evaluated by scouts coming out of high school. Do you know how many times I was described as being a ‘raw and toolsy’ player? Why are these words always used to describe black players, but never are we described as having a ‘high baseball IQ,’ an ‘advanced approach’ or ‘being low-risk’? It’s important to know that by the time most black baseball players are being scouted professionally, many have been playing the sport for over a decade. Just like white players. So why are we ‘raw and toolsy’ and considered ‘high-risk’? When a scout uses these terms to describe a player, more times than not they’re describing a black baseball player. I was never a multisport guy; I had been playing baseball exclusively for over 10 years. I had traveled the country playing with and competing against the best players in my class, so why am I ‘raw, toolsy and high-risk’?

The Angels drafted Adell 10th overall the first round in 2017. He was ranked the seventh-best prospect in that draft by Baseball America, whose first sentence of his write-up was, “Adell’s explosive raw tools are rarely matched.”

Rob Arthur, who along with Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer in 2018 analyzed over 73,000 scouting reports from the Reds front office from 1991-2003, dug further into those reports for Baseball Prospectus, revealing bias:

They were quick to use words like “good,” “strong,” and “large” on white players, while dropping less flattering phrases on non-white prospects (“weak”, “skinny”, “crude”). Scouts were also more likely to assign a host of negative adjectives to nonwhite players’ less quantifiable skills, factors like approaches, aggression and mechanics that don’t fit on the 20-80 scale. “Questionable” aggression ratings fell on nonwhite players twice as often as on whites, for example.

Alex Speier at the Boston Globe wrote about the prevalence of racial bias in baseball scouting, including one American League executive describing the results of an internal study of his team:

The vast majority of players deemed to have the best makeup were white. The vast majority of players viewed as having the worst makeup were nonwhite. The tilt of the field was too dramatic to be random, and likely affected how those players were allowed to advance through the organization, as well as how they were coached and developed.

“The findings were disturbing,” said the executive. “Every team talks about makeup. I think that’s where the biases come in, more than the pure talent evaluations.

“People look at me and others in my profession and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t impact you,’” Adell said. “Some of those people are beginning to understand that regardless of who you are, and what you do, what happens in your life can be dictated by the color of your skin.”