Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 49: Austin Adams
Bob Toth | On 15, Feb 2016
As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 49 days
With all of the focus that the Indians front office has given the bullpen this offseason, it cannot be a good feeling for Austin Adams.
The hard-throwing 29-year-old right-handed reliever finished his second season in the Majors with Cleveland last season and while he pitched well at times, he may not have done enough to secure a spot in what has become a very crowded competition for a limited number of spots in manager Terry Francona’s bullpen.
In a scenario in which the Indians opt to take eight relievers into the regular season, which is no guarantee but has been the manner in which the club has operated under Francona’s leadership, two spots seem to be locks in closer Cody Allen and setup man Bryan Shaw. Both have proven themselves enough that they will return in those roles in 2016.
Zach McAllister seems to have transitioned effectively into a late inning option for the club, as the team was able to utilize his limited pitch selection to its fullest while not exposing him over the course of a five- to six-inning start.
Last season’s diamond in the rough was Jeff Manship, whose half-season with the club was without a doubt the best effort of his professional career. The now 31-year-old is coming off of a 32-game season where he allowed just four runs in 39 1/3 innings (0.92 ERA) and gave up 20 hits and ten walks (0.76 WHIP) while averaging a career-best 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
The team also purchased veteran Dan Otero from Philadelphia and signed free agents Joba Chamberlain, Felipe Paulino, Craig Stammen, and Tommy Hunter from the right side and Joe Thatcher, Tom Gorzelanny, and Ross Detwiler from the left. They join returning lesser-experienced arms in camp like Adams, fellow righty Shawn Armstrong, and lefties Kyle Crockett and Giovanni Soto.
So with three to four spots left, and one to two of those going to a southpaw, it leaves a very difficult camp battle ahead for Adams as well as some veterans looking to hang on in the baseball landscape. The opportunities will decrease by one when Hunter is able to join the club, as he is expected to be delayed through most of the first month of the season while recovering from offseason surgery.
For Adams, it will be another obstacle in a challenging road to the Major Leagues.
The Indians drafted the one-time college shortstop in 2009 in the fifth round out of Faulkner University in Alabama. He appeared in 17 games at Mahoning Valley as a reliever, but in 2010, he worked primarily as a starter. He was progressing quickly, in much the same way teammate Armstrong had, but after starting 26 games and going 11-10 for Akron in 2011, he was lost for all of 2012 with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
“It’s very difficult to come back at all of your arm speed and velocity after significant shoulder surgery, but if you stick to protocol of rehab and nutrition, you can do it, and Austin did,” shared then-Indians Vice President of Player Development Ross Atkins in a June 2014 story on Cleveland.com. “He essentially came back stronger than he was pre-injury and that’s uncommon.”
He returned to Akron in 2013 but returned as a reliever. While prior to his injury, he was averaging just under a strikeout per inning pitched, he struck out 76 in 55 innings over 45 games for the RubberDucks, posting a 3-2 record with a 2.62 ERA and four saves.
He made 42 appearances with a similar 3-2 record, 2.50 ERA, and five saves for Columbus in his first work at Triple-A in 2014 and also appeared in six games for the Tribe scattered over several mid-season call-ups. His work in Cleveland was inconsistent, both in appearances and in results, and may have led to a return trip to the Clippers after starting the season on the Indians’ 25-man roster. He paired a 12.8 strikeout per nine rate with a walks per nine rate of 5.2 during his time in Columbus in 2015, both well over his career norms.
After the initial demotion on April 10, he would be recalled by Cleveland from Columbus four times, generally spending no more than a handful of games in one place before moving along again. Finally, by late June, he remained with the parent club. He finished the year with a 4-2 record, 3.97 ERA, and 1.54 WHIP over 41 appearances and 45 1/3 innings, but he seemed to have a lot of traffic on the bases. Opposing batters hit .278 off of him with a .348 on-base percentage. His splits were nearly identical, with the exception of six more walks surrendered to left-handers in 12 fewer plate appearances against him.
In five of his first seven appearances in Cleveland, Francona used him in multiple inning roles while the club lacked a true long man in the bullpen. He was used similarly in ten of 20 outings to close out the season. During his time in Columbus during the 2015 season (2-2, 4.50 ERA, four saves in 13 games), he was used solely in single inning roles and ten times as the last pitcher on the mound for the club.
Adams throws three pitches – a mid-to-upper 90’s four-seamer, a curveball in the mid-80’s, and a changeup that hovers around 90. Fangraphs.com showed a max velocity of 99.7 on his fastball at one point in 2015. Using MLB.com’s Statcast Averages, his four-seamer clocked in at an average pitch speed of 97.63 mph. Command has been repeatedly mentioned as the key factor that would separate Adams from the rest of the pack, for better or for worse.
Spring training will be a telling time for Adams, who turns 30 in August. This season may be a make-or-break opportunity for him, and it will start in Goodyear against some very veteran competition. If he cannot crack the 25-man roster to start, he will get his work in Columbus while biding his time for his next call-up. If he wants to change that pattern, it all starts with what he does beginning next week.
Photo: Otto Gruele Jr./Getty Images