ST. LOUIS — In his first full season in the majors, Matt Adams turned in a very respectable season at one of the National League’s most loaded positions. Justin Morneau, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Adrian Gonzalez and Paul Goldschmidt all manned first in 2014 and Adams hung with the pack. He finished second in batting average, third in doubles and led the position in triples. Still, he was somewhat of an offensive conundrum.
Expected to bump the team’s home run totals in a full-time role, he hit two fewer home runs in 244 more at-bats. He also drove in only 17 more runners than in 2013.
He was also expected to struggle against the shift, whiff consistently and hit for low average. Instead, he lowered his strikeout rate, beat the shift regularly and hit .288 (.329 in the first half), a very solid year.
So what to expect in 2015? Here is a look at two possible paths for Adams. One, brightly lit and filled with the warble of cheerful birds, leads to a successful season. The other, bleak and shrouded in a foul-smelling mist, leads to a bad one.
If it goes well
Adams develops opposite field power, punishing teams who employ the shift so liberally against him. They may not play him straight up, but opposite field power could prevent them from stacking up in right field like a police roadblock.
His plate discipline improves, and he stops chasing balls down in the zone. Just 26 walks in 563 plate appearances is self-destructive for a guy who consistently gets pitched low and away. As Adams sharpens his eye, he forces pitches in hittable locations. That, combined with his ability to go to any part of the park, boosts his power numbers.
Eventually, he proves to the league that simply throwing the ball out of the zone won’t get it done, and he’ll have a chance to do more than just beat a shift. His numbers begin to look like what we expected in 2014, and his home run total rises. Strikeouts would likely increase, but a K rate of 25 percent doesn’t look so bad if the long ball count goes north of 30. He finishes hitting .285 with 30+ homers and 85 RBIs.
If it doesn’t
Pitchers continue to exploit the low outside corner, and Adams is unable to effectively counter. Instead, he continues to pull out a brick at a time rather than knock the house down. He has hot stretches, but a lack of discipline at the plate keeps him from a consistent level of production. Home runs remain sparse, as Adams fights to simply get on base while swinging at pitches in power-sapping locations.
That, combined with his sub-.200 average against lefties, means he slips deeper into a platoon with Mark Reynolds. The curveball becomes his kryptonite, liberally applied and devastatingly effective. The cement around his numbers begins to harden, and he becomes known as a .260-.270 hitter with occasional power.
The year ends with Adams playing in only 115 games, driving in 40 runners and hitting 10 homers while batting .260, not enough for a power position.
I think he will fall somewhere in the middle, bumping his home run totals into the 20s but not seeing the top side of .300. I also think he’ll flash opposite field power. Given his determination and ability to improve his game (his foot and glove work around the bag at first are a prime example), it’s hard to believe Adams is done developing.