In the interview room at Winter Warm-Up, Matt Adams stood behind a podium surrounded by a throng of St. Louis media. His 6′ 3″, 230 pound frame appeared more than capable of bearing the weight of whatever burden the St. Louis Cardinals choose to place upon those broad shoulders. After his eye-opening 2011 season, that burden could be closer than anticipated. And now that Albert Pujols has departed St. Louis for the sunny beaches of California…it could be a bit more cumbersome as well.
“Albert was a great guy,” Adams said, “and we would’ve liked to have him stay. He brought a lot to the table for the Cardinals. I’m just trying to go out there year by year and put up the numbers I’ve been putting up.”
While playing first base for the Cardinals’ AA affiliate, Adams put up a slash line of .300/.357/.566 and set the Springfield Cardinals single season home run record with 32 – a record previously held by Colby Rasmus. His stellar season included 101 RBIs, 80 runs scored, and 40 walks – in just 115 games.
He insists the success he enjoyed taught him a valuable lesson – one he expects to need as he progresses beyond double-A.
“Just keeping that confidence,” he said. “The first week, week and a half I struggled. I had like two or three hits those first two weeks. I popped in the video room and looked at some film and got things rolling.”
But the young slugger is not one to get comfortable or dwell on the past.
“As soon as the last out’s recorded in 2011,” said Adams, “you let that go on the field and you get home for the off-season and get ready for the 2012 season.”
This year, however, the Cardinals had something else in mind. Instead of spending his off-season resting and recuperating, Adams was placed on the fast track and sent to the Arizona Fall League (AFL). The change was noticeable.
“It was a little bit different,” Adams said, “You’re getting guys running out there every night [throwing] 94 and above. It was tough. But it was a good experience to get out there and play against the top prospects in all of baseball and be able to learn a lot more.”
Adams hit a respectable .250 with a .475 slugging percentage, .733 OPS, and four home runs in 80 at bats during his time in the AFL – but he insists the experience wasn’t about numbers.
“You just go out there and play baseball like you know how to play and try to get it done,” he said.
The approach seems to be working – at least well enough to earn him an invitation to Spring Training camp with the reigning World Champions.
“I’m pumped about it,” Adams said, “You got so many guys on that staff that bring a lot of knowledge to the table and just want to help the guys out.”
Once again, things seem to be working out in yet another environment for the player many are calling the best first base prospect the system has produced since Albert Pujols. Through four games and just 12 at bats of Spring Training, Adams has five hits, a grand slam home run, and a bases-loaded triple. His slash line is an impressive .417/.462/.833 with a gaudy 1.295 OPS.
“My goal is to break camp with the big league team, but we all know that there’s a lot of people up there [that can] fill that position of first base. I’m just going to go there and try to have a good spring and hopefully make that Memphis roster.”
A Bit More…
The signing of Albert Pujols with the Angels has affected no other player in the Cardinals’ farm system more than Matt Adams. Combine the sudden uncertainty at first base with Adams’ bull-rush through the various levels of the minor leagues, and it’s only natural for people to start talking. But those people, Matt says, do not include those closest to him.
“Nothing’s changed really,” Adams said. “My family knows whose up there. Lance is there, and Mark (Hamilton) is up there and he’s had a great year. He’s a good player. Everybody knows I just have work to do, and I just need to show up and do my work.”
The young ball player is saying all the right things. Show up. Focus. Learn. Work. But when I asked him if he’s looking ahead – maybe “year counting” just a little bit – he couldn’t hide a wry smile and a bit of hesitancy before giving yet another prepared answer about work and focus.
He seems to make an impression wherever he plays, but never has his path to the Major Leagues seemed so clear. With Albert gone and Lance Berkman only signed through the end of this season…Matt Adams’ crack at first base for the St. Louis Cardinals could come sooner than anyone could have expected.
One can forgive him for being at least a little bit excited about it…and perhaps for dreaming about what next year could bring.