Thursday, February 16, 2012

Prospect Watch: Ryan Adams

   After a 36 save season, BJ Ryan left the Orioles via free agency and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles were compensated with a supplemental pick for their loss and took Ryan Adams in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft out of Jesuit High-school (New Orleans, Louisiana).

    Adams, 24, has slowly worked his way through the Orioles minor league system. At rookie ball in his age 19 season, he put up a respectable .256/.361/.376 batting line in 156 plate appearances. His second season in A- ball, he struggled with a .236/.296/.329 batting line in 272 plate appearances. It wasn't until his age 21 season at A ball where he really started to find himself.
   Adams put together a terrific season in Delmarva, with a .308/.367/.462 batting line in 497 plate appearances. The next season he was moved up to A ball in Frederick, and hit .288/.349/.381 in 235 plate appearances. In his age 23 season at AA Bowie, he arguably had his best season yet. He posted a .298/.365/.464 batting line with 15 HR (a career high) in 594 plate appearances. He followed up this great season with another respectable season at AAA Norfolk. He posted a .284/.341/.454 batting line in 415 plate appearances before he was finally summoned to the majors.

   With Robert Andino taking most of the reps at second, Adams only saw sporadic playing time at the big league level. In this sporadic time, he managed to put together a respectable line of .281/.333/.326 in 96 plate appearances. But with the recent acquisitions of Matt Antonelli, and Ryan Flaherty (Rule 5 pick), it seems the Orioles have made it difficult for Adams to break camp with the club. Is it because they do not believe his bat is strong enough? Is it because his defense has not improved in the manner they want it to? These are some questions that Adams enthusiasts have wondered over the past year or so.

   In reality, it may be a little mix of both questions asked. His glove is clearly below-average and has been the deciding factor for a lot of scouts on whether he can play at the major league level. While Adams has shown he can be a reliable bat at times, he has not stood out in any aspect. He has decent power for a second baseman, but nothing overly special (44 HR in six seasons). His average and on-base percentage have been good in the minors, but not without flaws. Take a look at the K% of Adams throughout his minor league career:

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    I have a tough time believing a hitter can get away with these K% levels once they reach the majors. The way Adams plays his game, he needs to put the ball in play, and get on base to be an effective major league hitter. When you are striking out 20% or more of the time, it is going to hurt your game. Unless you have some form of extreme talent in an area like Mark Reynolds does with HR, it is going to be tough for that player to stay at an expected level of major league performance. Adams still has time to work on this at the AAA level this season, as I expect him to start there after the additions mentioned earlier. However, with the K% trend above, it would be reasonable to believe that he may never cut back on them. Maybe with some more practice it is possible, but probably not likely at this point.
Take a look at a few second basemen that I believe have some similar skills and statistics as Adams:

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    As you can see from above, most of these players have their career K% below the 20% mark. They all are flawed players in some aspect, but have that one common denominator. Robert Andino was able to drop his K% in 2011 down to a respectable enough number. Brian Roberts has always had a low K%. Neil Walker probably fit the bill of Adams the best under my impression, and he has been able to keep his K% hovering around the 16-17% mark. Jason Kipnis is a top talent coming up through the Indians system, and has kept his K% below 20% except for his cup of coffee in 2011 in which it was 22.7. That was the outlier of his career so far. Finally, Howie Kendrick has kept his below 20% each year besides 2011. That was an extreme outlier for his career, as his next highest K% was 17.8% in 2009.

   The point is, these players have found ways to keep their K% below 20%, and thus have been successful in some form. I think Adams will need to do this as well, but the trends do not favor this. It will be an interesting season for him, as he most likely gets stuck in AAA to start the season. Can he force his way to the pros?

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked Ryan Adams the Orioles 9th best prospect in 2011.

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