There are times a scout only gets to see a player for a brief period of play. I got to see Cleveland Indians pitcher Austin Adams only once during this past Spring Training. But it was enough for me to sit up and take notice. I think Adams is a pitcher to remember, one with a bright future for the Tribe. Provided his right shoulder holds up.
Adams played shortstop and pitched for NAIA Faulkner University of Montgomery, Ala. Faulkner is a private university and member of the Southern States Athletic Conference.
The Milwaukee Brewers selected Adams as a shortstop in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, but he elected to complete his senior year. The Indians then selected him as a pitcher in the fifth round of the 2009 Draft.
Since signing with the Indians, Adams has pitched in parts of five Minor League seasons. He had a composite 3.28 ERA as both a starter and reliever prior to this season. In Adams' rookie year at Mahoning Valley, he worked exclusively out of the bullpen. That year, at age 22, he pitched in 17 games.
After converting to the rotation during his second season, Adams has made 46 total starts. His career was interrupted in 2012 when he had an impingement in his right shoulder that required surgery.
Last season, Adams returned to the bullpen to ease back to the mound after his surgery. He threw extremely well, appearing in 45 games and throwing to a 2.62 ERA in 55 innings. Adams yielded only 44 hits. But his 29 walks inflated his WHIP to 1.33. Adams struck out an average of 12.4 hitters per nine innings last year.
So what was it about Adams that got me to take notice? To begin, he has a true power arm, even after his shoulder surgery. Adams generally sits between 93-98 mph, but a wicked, sharp-breaking slider 10 mph slower than his fastball induces swings and misses. That type of velocity can always help in the late innings of a game. He also has a curveball and a changeup in his repertoire, but they aren't as advanced or as polished as his fastball-slider combination. Everything Adams throws seems to have good movement. It wouldn't surprise me if there were to be consistent triple digits in his future velocity.
The stocky 5-foot-11, 190-pound Adams throws across his body and makes it difficult for a hitter to pick up the flight of the ball out of his hand. That deception and the cut he can put on his fastball are valuable components, and reasons that I project success.
The Indians thought enough of Adams to put him on their 40-man roster, so as to avoid losing him in the Rule 5 Draft in December. They invited him to Spring Training, where he pitched in three games, working three innings in relief. Adams yielded one hit and no runs, struck out three and didn't walk a batter. The opposition hit .100 off him. Adams opened eyes, including mine.
So far this season, Adams has appeared in four games for Triple-A Columbus, all in relief, throwing a total of 5 1/3 innings.
While I don't doubt Adams' ability to be an effective starting pitcher, with his past injury and current abilities, he will be best used as a back-end-of-the-bullpen reliever.
Now in his fifth season, Adams is at the point in his career development where he can become a viable option to help the Indians with his power arm. However, shoulder surgery causes red flags. Shoulder injuries are often much more difficult to diagnose, repair and rehabilitate than elbow injuries.
But since Adams returned to the mound with his velocity intact, his biggest challenge is to harness his fastball command and throw first-pitch strikes. If he can accomplish that while pitching at Triple-A Columbus, his stock will continue to rise, and he could be a viable late-inning reliever at some point this season.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.