Jo Adell’s first experience in the major leagues was certainly unique.
In a normal year, Adell may have played in spring training games with the Los Angeles Angels before starting the year in Triple-A with the Salt Lake Bees and then may have been called up to the MLB during the season.
Instead, Adell only got to play in nine spring training games in 2020 before it was cancelled due to COVID-19 on March 12. Then the entire minor league baseball season was cancelled, so instead of playing with the Bees in competitive games, Adell trained with other Angels minor leaguers at an alternate site and played in Halos intrasquad games before MLB Opening Day on July 23.
“Part of the thing is for me, and I knew this going in, it was going to be tough for me to be able to perform at as high of a level as I wanted to at 2020, with this sport and the skill it requires. The acclimation part of playing actual games was tough in 2020. I got called up to the off site there and we were playing each other, I was playing against my own teammates,” Adell said.
The first competitive game of Adell’s 2020 season ended up being his major league debut.
“It was really exciting,” Adell said of his debut. “I worked my whole life to get the opportunity to do something like that.”
The Angels’ No. 1 prospect, who turned 22 years old this April, heralded as perhaps the Halos’ best minor league prospect since Mike Trout came through the system, was thrust into a season unlike any other.
It didn’t go the way Adell or Angels fans envisioned it.
Adell played in his first MLB game on Aug. 4, 2020, batting 1-for-4. He played 38 games of Los Angeles’ 60-game season, batting just .161 with a .212 on-base percentage. He struck out 55 times in 132 plate appearances and had 20 hits, four doubles, three home runs and seven RBIs. He committed three errors in the outfield — the most prominent one against the Texas Rangers, when the ball bounced out of Adell’s glove, with two outs, on the warning track and went over the wall for a home run.
His first major league season showed room for growth.
“For me, it was a wake up call in a way, it reminded me of some things that I need to work on my game and continue to grow,” Adell said. “It was really good to be able to have that experience to be able to say, ‘Okay, I know what happened here. This is how I’m going to adapt to it, this is how I’m going to adjust and get better.’ So with that in mind, that’s the goal and I’m going to continue forward.”
Compared to the minor leagues, where he spent three seasons before making his major league debut, Adell said that the major leagues are a step up from the highest level of minor league baseball, Triple-A.
“(It’s) a little bit cleaner game than throughout the minor leagues. The guys who have played for a while and understand what they bring to the table and play the game at a certain level and with a certain intensity and focus. Every pitch is a pitch to get you out,” Adell said.
Adell took mental notes of his time in the MLB and what he needed to improve on — both offensively and defensively, while also understanding that 2020 was not a normal year — from no minor league games to isolation.
To be a successful major leaguer, you can’t spend too much time dwelling on the past. He’s taken the lessons he’s learned and has been applying them to his game now.
“I didn’t really beat myself up too bad about it at all. I mean, out of a 60-game sprint, it was what it was, but we’re always turning the page. You have to to play as many games as we do,” Adell said. “I think the focus stayed the same. Before I got called up in the big leagues, my determination and where I was at mentally is the same as when I got sent down. Just go out and try to get better and try to work and see where it takes me.”
That mentality has paid dividends as Adell has been on fire during the 2021 season. Adell did not start the year with the Angels as he did in 2020, instead playing with the Bees. Some players have trouble readjusting to life back in the minors after being sent down from the MLB, but Adell hasn’t missed a beat.
“His mentality has been great. He’s showed up, continues to get his work in. He’s just been a true pro since he’s been here,” Bees manager Lou Marson said.
In 49 games with Salt Lake, Adell has shown much improvement, batting .263 with a .321 on-base percentage and a .898 OPS. He’s hit 17 home runs (No. 1 in Triple-A West), 10 doubles, three triples (No. 2 in Triple-A West) and has 46 RBIs (No. 1 in Triple-A West). He’s committed just two errors this season.
Adell is on pace for 41 home runs and 112 RBIs in Salt Lake’s 120-game schedule. Both of those numbers would be career-highs. Adell didn’t hit a Triple-A home run in his 27 games with the Bees in 2019.
“He continues to improve. He continues to swing at balls in the zone and make hard contact. When he barrels the ball in the zone, it comes off hot. I’ve always said that about him. He’s just got to continue to get his at-bats, stay healthy and continue to play nine innings and continue to develop. He’s been doing a great job,” Marson said.
The quality of pitching faced in Triple-A, the highest level of minor league baseball, is good practice for Adell as he works to get back to the MLB.
“You’re seeing guys out here in Salt Lake that are big league ready all the way around, if not have multiple years in The Show. You kind of see the similarities and it’s pretty close, but definitely up there (MLB), it’s a little more exact. These guys know their game and what they bring to the table,” Adell said.
“He’s someone we feel has a really bright future. From my end, when we call him up, we want to feel that he’s going to take this job and be here, not a back-and-forth type shuttle from Triple-A to the major leagues. He’s definitely on the radar.” — Angels general manager Perry Minasian
There’s still improvement to be made in regards to strikeouts, though. He’s struck out 73 times in 234 plate appearances, which is second-worst in Triple-A West, and his 15 walks and .321 on-base percentage are in the bottom 20 of qualified players in Triple-A West.
“Just refining here and there — some pitch selection stuff. Continuing to pound the little stuff, little parts of the game and try to make those the staple for me. My time here so far is just continue to grind on those small things and move forward,” Adell said.
Another advantage to being in Salt Lake has been the ability to stick with one team. In 2017, Adell split time between the rookie-league AZL Angels and Orem Owlz. In 2018, he played on single-A Burlington, single-A-advanced Inland Empire and double-A Mobile. In 2019, he was on Inland Empire, Mobile and Salt Lake.
Pandemic restrictions for players have been eased as well, and fans have been let into Smith’s Ballpark at full capacity, providing a sense of normalcy.
“Just getting games under my belt, just being able to play every day and getting back into some normalcy. I think more so than anything. It’s the toughest thing in the world to play this game the way that we’ve had to play it for about a year and a half until now,” Adell said.
“Getting back in the swing of things and getting on the field, being able to do stuff on the field and not be prohibited, only using the field at certain times. Just being able to work, that’s the big thing. That’s kind of led to my play this year so far and kind of what I’ve been able to do. That’s all part of it is the rhythm, the structure.”
Adell will continue to work on his game in Triple-A, as the Angels want him to get as much experience as he can before being called up for a second time.
“There’s two sides to the ball. There’s offense and defense. Jo’s made great strides. He’s on the right track,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian told the Orange County Register in May. “He’s someone we feel has a really bright future. From my end, when we call him up, we want to feel that he’s going to take this job and be here, not a back-and-forth type shuttle from Triple-A to the major leagues. He’s definitely on the radar.”
When he does get called up again, Marson hopes it is for good.
“He still has some things to work on and still needs to play, get more at-bats and more reps in the outfield. He just needs more reps, period. When he’s ready, he’ll let us know by his play. Hopefully he’ll stay there (in MLB) for 15 years, that’s the goal,” Marson said.