For the past month, I can't sit down at a restaurant, take a gander at the menu, see the word "sliders" and not automatically think of Austin Adams.
Adams arsenal consists of a fastball with heavy movement, in the 92-94 miles per hour range. Adams' best pitch though, is a loud, earth-shattering slider that is like hardly any other.
I've seen batters lean back to avoid being tagged in the shoulder and then be caught staring at strike three on a ball sitting in the bottom of the zone. Nope, not being overly dramatic, Adams' slider is that good! Adams learned his slider in a very unique way though, at a young age.
"I would say I'm a slider happy guy, is what most people would say. I have a great story about it. My uncle for my birthday back when I was about 12 or 13, bought me a Roger Clemens baseball and it had color coated finger prints on it and it would tell you where to grip. So I get it and I'm just throwing against the fence in the backyard. I read the pamphlet of how to move your wrist and this and that and come across the slider and curveball. My dad comes home and I run up to him, and say 'Dad! I learned a curveball and a slider' and he's like, 'No you didn't!' So, we start playing catch, and he says, 'I'll give you two sliders and two curveballs, and go crazy with it.' I throw two curveballs, sat pretty good, I throw two sliders and he's like, 'Wow! You can actually throw these pitches, but don't throw these for another two years or so' (laughs). It was that point where you can move up in little league, and coaches could have said, 'you're going to throw nothing but curveballs and sliders', and I could have been successful doing that, but I'm thankful my dad was in charge and said you're not going to just throw breaking balls and still have an arm at this point."
Adams has had struggles this season with command. Over his first ten and two/third innings pitched, Adams walked 14 batters. He followed that with a stretch of excellence, going six and a third, not allowing a walk, and just one hit. Struggles continued though, as in his last six and a third, he's walked 12. No one seemed to be a harsher critic of Adams struggles, than himself.
"Right now, I'm struggling, it's ridiculous. It's something I'm absolutely disappointed in, with myself, because I don't feel like I'm giving myself the best development. To better myself and help the team, the lack of fastball command and when I have to rely heavily on the slider is when I hurt myself and I hurt the teams chances of winning. The times that I've thrown fastballs for strikes and can show the slider less, like when I'm in a positive count and I can show the slider then, my success rate is just significantly better. Right now [Matt] Wise, Denny [Hocking] and I are working on the fastball command and right now it's a work in progress. It's something that I take each and every day, some days it's better, some days it's worse. Pretty much, I've always been able to throw my slider for strikes, so once I can get to that point where I'm commanding more with the fastball it will open up a new world for me as a pitcher."
"Command is an issue. He plays 21 with Matt Wise every day. He's such a high-level, max-effort motion, kind of guy. We've talked about this before when he first started struggling, not getting the ball over the plate and walking guys. He has to have feel. He's like a quarterback that can play and throw the seven routes, throw the nine routes, but you ask him to look down the field and everyones covered, you ask him to hand off to your back, that's what gives him trouble. He has an absolute wipeout slider, we're trying to get him to throw a first pitch, get me over slider. That way, they can see it, say okay, and then swing at the ones out of the zone. It'd be like taking a power hitter and telling him he has to play hit-n-run every once in awhile. I had to take him out of the game the other day because he walked a couple guys, and he was not happy about it. He understood why I took him out but he was happy that someone else had to come in and take care of his mess. He's a good self evaluator and he's disappointed when it happens. You're not going to get better unless you understand it."
Adams struggles have also come with success, which he is also very critical about. Over the course of his first 18 innings of work as a reliver, Adams did not allow a single run to cross the plate, and did not allow more than one hit, every time he stepped on the rubber.
"I think when you as a player, when you start focusing more on the results instead of the process, it's tough," said Adams. "For me, when I focus on getting out of the inning with no runs. Yeah, but you also threw five fastballs and only one for a strike, that's not making myself better. But, you have to find the positives where you are having some type of negative. For the most part it's been an up and down season, it's really just the walks right now and it's such a frustrating thing."
Adams gave praise to his teammmates, particularly the bullpen, for his success over the course of the season.
"A lot of that has to do with my teammates. If I get into a jam and I have to come out, Santos, or Spomer, or O'Grady (list multiple other teammates), they come in and they pick me up. It's not always me getting out of my own inning, it's sometimes the team picking me up and you have to have that throughout the season at times."
Adams has excelled and progressed well over his time in the Minor Leagues, advancing a new level each season with respective numbers from the mound. Austin still has quite a bit to learn, as he notes himself, and tells us what he has to work on to progress even further in his minor league career.
"I think the most positive thing right is understanding who I am as a pitcher and understanding what adjustments I need to make when things start straying. If I can find out one adjustment out there and get my fastball back in the zone, I think that would be a huge positive by the end of the year. If I can do that, I fully believe by the end of this year, I will become a better pitcher because of all the time I've put in with Wise and the side work. Things like that, it will pay dividends in the end. I've struggled with control and command my entire life, it's no secret. If you go back to my college years, freshman and sophomore year, I walked everyone. In my junior and senior year, something clicked and I believe a lot of people at the Major League level, they talk about something clicked, and something clicked that year, and I'm looking for that second click (snaps fingers to make clicking sound, smiles)."
Austin Adams this season, has a 2.31 earned run average, and is striking out 11.6 batters per nine innings. With his focus on commanding the ball better, and discovering who he is as a pitcher, Adams could become an elite prospect, and could soon, reach the Major League levels, with his second "click."
For more information on Angels prospect, follow InsideTheHalos.com Senior Publisher, @TaylorBlakeWard, on Twitter, and don't forget to click to "follow" button for @ScoutMedia and @ScoutAngels as well.