Adams Rebuilt and In New Role Could Challenge for Roster Spot

The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ young players who likely won’t make the roster but could impact the Tribe’s season before it ends.

Setbacks are a part of life and the same is very true in professional baseball and trying to make the big leagues.

After a disappointing 2012 season that left Austin Adams injured and sliding off the Indians’ top prospect list, he was able to move from the starting rotation to the the bullpen in 2013 and flourish at Double-A Akron. Adams will use his rebuilt shoulder and a full spring training to try and impress the Indians brass as he fights for a spot in the Tribe’s bullpen. Like Adams, the Indians’ bullpen is expected to be rebuilt and full of new roles in 2014.

Originally, Adams was a fifth round selection in the 2009 First Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Indians. After playing four full seasons at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., Adams was making a quick climb through the Tribe’s system as a starting pitcher. In 2010, Adams split his season between Low-A Lake County and High-A Kinston, posting a 8-5 record, with a 2.49 ERA in 26 games, including 20 starts.

In 2011, Adams was 11-10 with a 3.77 ERA in 26 starts and 136 innings at Double-A Akron. At the close of the season Adams was regarded as one of the Indians organization’s top ten prospects. He was labeled the organization’s, “Best Fastball,” according to Baseball America. His 131 strikeouts in 2011 substantiated the claim.

But Adams injured his shoulder in spring training in 2012 and was forced to miss the entire season while having reconstructive shoulder surgery. The setback didn’t just delay Adams progress, but moved him from a starter to a reliever. He returned in 2013 to the Aeros, but now was a one-inning pitcher, using that fastball to retire hitters out of the bullpen.

After a slow spring training in 2013, he did not join the Aeros and make his first appearance until April 17. A year of work and rehabilitation finally paid off and Adams was back on the mound.

“I was out in Arizona trying to convince them to let me go out there,” Adams said, “They just kept saying ‘Nope, not yet.’”

Once Adams was able to get back on the mound, he flourished in his new role. In 2013, he was 3-2 with a 2.62 ERA in 55 innings and 45 games, solely in Akron’s bullpen. His electric fastball returned as he struck out 76 hitters in his 55 frames.

“His arm strength is back, he is throwing as good as ever,” Greg Hibbard, 2013 Akron Aeros pitching coach said. “Some of his command issues stem from an inconsistent delivery, but with every outing he’s getting closer.”

Adams return to the mound and success resulted in his addition to the Tribe’s 40-man roster this winter. He’ll enter his first big league spring training camp with a chance to compete for a bullpen spot with a plethora of other contenders.

Adams will battle Vinnie Pestano, C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet, Blake Wood, David Aardsma and Scott Atchison for what is likely just two available bullpen spots. It may be an uphill battle for Adams since he has minor league options remaining and no big league experience. All his other contenders have already pitched at the big league level, at least sparingly.

If Adams does not shine this spring, he’ll likely begin the season at Triple-A Columbus. A strong showing this spring and early this season in Columbus could put him in position to receive a promotion to the Indians at some point this season. Already 27-years old, Adams is no longer a young, developing prospect.

However, Adams transition to the bullpen makes it easier to progress to the big league level. No longer does he have to worry about developing three or four solid pitches as a starting pitcher. Now, he can rely on his electric fastball and one off-speed pitch to retire hitters in a relief role.

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer

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