Jo Adell has arrived. The Angels’ top prospect will be called up Tuesday before the club’s road trip starts in Seattle, per multiple reports. Adell is one of the most anticipated major league debuts of the season.
Adell hit .289/.359/.475 through three levels in 2019, including reaching Triple-A at age 20. That year including eight home runs in 43 games with Double-A Mobile. There are no stats from this weird year because there is no minor league season in 2020. Adell was at the Angels’ alternate training site at Blair Field in Long Beach as a member of the club player pool, playing in intrasquad games with other Angels not on the club’s active roster.
Drafted in the first round in 2017, Adell’s first full-season stop the next year was in Class-A Burlington. That stop only lasted a month before he was promoted, after hitting .326/.398/.611 in the Midwest League.
The main knock on Adell is his contact rate, including striking out in 33 percent of his plate appearances in his month in Triple-A last year. But given his young age, just 21 now, and how he’s progressed at earlier levels, there’s reason for optimism that strikeouts won’t be a problem Adell can’t solve.
“At my level there were things he needed to work on. He had to go through the process of Low-A and move on. It seems like at each level he’s made those adjustments and shown the things he needs to continue to do to improve,” Burlington manager Jack Howell told Halos Heaven in March. “The best thing I can say is that it’s no surprise he’s moving like he is.”
At your service (time)
Calling up Adell a little more than a week into this truncated season, it’s not possible for Adell to accrue a full year of major league service time in 2020. That might not mean much right now, but should he progress like most feel he will, Adell would be eligible for free agency after the 2026 season instead of 2025.
That’s under the current rules, and with the collective bargaining agreement expiring after the 2021 season, those rules might change, especially given how service time manipulation has been a hot-button issue among players of late. Kris Bryant lost a grievance with the Cubs this winter over his delayed call-up in 2015. Just last week, the Blue Jays started top prospect Nate Pearson in the minors until he could no longer accrue a full year of service time in 2020.
That’s not to say ensuring that extra year of Adell was the main reason for keeping Adell down for 10 days. It’s reasonable that a 21-year-old with 27 games above Double-A might need to work on a few things before reaching the majors.
“He was looking really good at the end [of summer camp], making good adjustments. We spoke to him about different things we thought he needed to get better on. He was wonderful, he gets it. We’re just trying to make a complete ballplayer,” manager Joe Maddon said on a conference call last week. “I’m not into microwaving talent. When he’s ready, he’s ready.”
Maddon used a few buzzwords that are common and have been around for years, used to justify keeping players down for just the right number of days it takes to secure an extra season of team control. There is enough legitimacy to the idea that there’s no way to truly prove otherwise. But service time manipulation is so prevalent throughout baseball that it’s impossible to ignore it as a possible motivation.
Adell might very well struggle, of course. It happens. The Angels called up their top prospect, an almost-20-year-old outfielder in July 2011 named Mike Trout, who hit .163/.213/.279 in 14 games before getting sent back down. He was back up within three weeks and finished out the year, but that first season was a struggle, hitting .220/.281/.390 overall.
Trout won Rookie of the Year in 2012 and was runner-up for AL MVP.
Adell doesn’t have to produce like Trout to be successful. That would be an impossible standard. But the Angels haven’t had a prospect like Adell since Trout, and as long as Jo Adell lives up to his own potential, these figure to be exciting times in Anaheim.
And Seattle. Tonight.