As it stands right now, the Chicago White Sox have 37 players on their 40-man roster, after re-acquiring Ian Clarkin, and non-tendering Matt Davidson and Avisaíl García. But before those decisions were made, the 40-man stood at 39 players — and still, Spencer Adams was not added to the 40-man, thus exposing him to the Rule 5 draft next week.
Hey, if the White Sox didn’t keep Davidson as a relief option, what chance did Adams have?
White Sox position player Matt Davidson throws an absolutely filthy curveball to Teoscar Hernandez pic.twitter.com/O66H9Wh0S9— Life-long Rams Fan Dan Why-Ner (@DanWeiner) July 28, 2018
(That is still very funny to watch from Davidson.)
So, why is Adams on the outside looking in?
First off, let’s take a look at Adams in the past few seasons in AA and AAA. Scouts have said that Adams’ fastball runs in the low 90s, with sink. Because Adams threw closer to mid-90s as a high schooler, surely the White Sox front office thought he could build up strength and at least run it up mid-90s as a pro. That has not happened, and Adams has also not been able to develop much of an “out” pitch. That’s not really a great combination. However, at least Adams had shown great command for most of his professional career.
Unfortunately, the past few seasons at the higher levels of the minors have seen concerning dips for Adams. His best season in AA or AAA came in 2016, when Adams made nine starts. He had a 3.45 FIP, and only allowed a 2.6% HR/FB rate. All batted ball data seemed to indicate weaker contact, and that was a good sign. However, his K/9 took a huge hit, falling to 4.23 K/9. But thanks to his 1.63 BB/9, he was able to weather most storms.
The 2017 season was much worse for Adams. Though his K/9 rose ominously to 6.66, his walks also rose, to a career high of 2.36 BB/9. While a walk rate like that isn’t terrible, it has only continued to rise. Adams also started allowing more home runs. For the first time in his career, Adams allowed more than one homer per nine innings. The only good thing from 2017 was that Adams had his ground ball rate down at a healthier level for a low-90s fastball pitcher, at 47.2%, with his fly balls falling to 31.6%.
However, again, Adams seemed to get worse in 2018.
Back to the start of 2018, in AA: Adams had a rough first half of starts, but was able to regain some form to earn him a AAA promotion. However, though Adams’ ERA in Charlotte was 3.19 (his best mark since 2015), his peripherals were very concerning. From Adams’ time in AA to AAA last season, his K/9 fell from 6.95 in AA to 4.18 in AAA. Sure, 6.95 is not a great number — but 4.18 is scary-bad. On top of that, Adams’ walks also hit a new career bad, with a BB/9 rising from 2.62 in AA to 3.79 in AAA. That gave Adams a 1.1% strikeout minus walk rate in AAA, which is truly atrocious.
The only reason why Adams was able to have a much better ERA in AAA (3.19) than FIP (5.14) was his uncharacteristically high left-on-base-rate of 83%. Even Adams’ batted ball data shows that he gave up good contact, with just 41.5% of batted balls being grounders, and pull percentage at a career high of 46.4%. None of that data is promising.
What Adams has become to this point is a pretty low-ceiling guy, perhaps as a fourth or fifth rotation starter who can eat innings — and he is good at eating innings. Adams averaged just about six innings a start in AAA last season, with a lot of starts like the one below.
Spencer Adams on the mound today for @KnightsBaseball:— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 2, 2018
Adams, who's sporting a 3.19 ERA with Charlotte, is the #WhiteSox No. 26 prospect: https://t.co/WZTfDOi21k pic.twitter.com/6KMSUMxsjS
At this point, because Adams was a top prospect in the White Sox organization for so long, he still has a special place in everybody’s heart. But the White Sox do not really need him.
Carlos Rodon, from the same draft class as Adams, is much better and has a much higher ceiling. Even though Rodón has not realized that potential, and suffered a less than stellar end to his 2018 season, he has a place on this rotation for years.
Carlos Rodon, filthy 85mph Backfoot Slider. pic.twitter.com/WpW6n8NbW6— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 22, 2017
After Lucas Giolito changed his pitching approach and used his sinker more than his fastball during last season, his FIP fell to 4.67, his K/9 finally got higher than eight, and his walk rate fell to 3.66 BB/9. None of those marks are anything to be proud of, but they indicate a much better campaign than Adams’ season in AAA. Also, Giolito has the better pitching arsenal, as his curveball can become an out pitch.
It was another solid outing for Lucas Giolito last night vs. the Red Sox as he matched a season-high with eight strikeouts over 6.1 IP. pic.twitter.com/4mp4pcKVA2— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) August 31, 2018
Reynaldo Lopez probably had the best season on the White Sox starting staff, ending at a 3.91 ERA and a 4.63 FIP. He showed his strikeout ability too few times this season, relying on a seemingly unlucky BABIP of .260. The biggest difference between Lopez and Adams is that Lopez actually has major league pitches. He can rear back and throw high-90s mph, and cool off hitters with his new, top-end slider.
Meanwhile, Dylan Covey returned from the dead and made a case for having the best season among White Sox starting pitchers. Every single pitch of Covey’s gained more than one mph, and his most critical pitches all improved. Covey even sported a great changeup, rated as the seventh-best in all of baseball. He has about the same ceiling as Adams, but he is already in the majors, and improving with already faster and better pitches.
The White Sox have four starters who are already better in the majors than Adams. GM Rick Hahn has signaled that he will sign a veteran arm, and that makes five better starters, who are controllable for multiple years. On top of that, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, and Jordan Stephens should all start in AAA and have outside shots to see time in MLB. Again, all three are already better than Adams.
Jordan Stephens spots a hook to end a 1-2-3 1st inning. He was 90-91 per the Charlotte stadium gun, which ran a little cold last year pic.twitter.com/eGvrfbv8dH— James Fegan (@JRFegan) May 21, 2018
That is now seven or eight pitchers, just at the same level as Adams (or higher) — and Adams is undoubtedly behind all of them. Where it even gets tougher for Adams is that there are still pitchers that will not push for significant AAA or majors time until 2020. That Michael Kopech guy, obviously ...
Michael Kopech's 4th strikeout:— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) August 22, 2018
98mph painted up-and-in to Joe Mauer. Gorgeous. pic.twitter.com/iicWoxjCX0
But even guys at AA and lower seem to be ahead of Adams, with stuff and execution. Konnor Pilkington, fresh off the 2018 draft class is already highly touted. Alex Hansen had a tough yea,r but has a much higher ceiling than Adams. Before his injury, Jimmy Lambert was tearing up AA like Adams never did, and the same happened with Bernardo Flores. Flores seems to have much of the same pitching arsenal as Adams, but much better command. Even fringe pitching prospects like Lincoln Henzman and Jordan Guerrero have shown better execution at their respective levels than Adams.
Whatever the ultimate reason, Adams does not seem to be in the White Sox’s future, whether or not an MLB team selects him in the Rule 5 draft next week.