ST. LOUIS -- The thing about Matt Adams is, he doesn’t like to talk. The big first baseman has wide smile and thoughtful answers to questions, but he isn’t exactly forthcoming with either.
After his SportsCenter-worthy night in the field Wednesday, a small circle of reporters crowded around his locker.
“Matt do you have time for a few questions?” was asked.
“About what?” he answered.
Six feet, three inches and 230 pounds of cantankerous humanity will temper anyone’s courage, but the circle closed tighter.
“Your defense,” answered one reporter.
Adams has reason to be exasperated by reporters gathering around him. Two years ago, every other game meant the lefty would be swarmed with questions about the shift. A year ago, it was about his limited power. Then, when he ripped his groin muscle cleanly in two, it was about his recovery.
Reporters, and their repetitive questions, become exhausting nuisances very fast. But, for all his imposing truculence, Matt Adams’ defense is worth bothering him about.
“It’s gotten better over the years,” he said Wednesday.
It was a reserved answer that belies his pride in his glove work. Adams has worked incredibly hard to make himself a quality defender. When he came up, he tirelessly labored before every game with infield instructor Jose Oquendo to improve his footwork and positioning. He was naturally blessed with soft hands and a flexibility uncommon for men his size, and he leveraged them into a well-rounded skill set. Veteran Adam Wainwright acknowledged as much after Adams started-and finished- two double plays and made a highlight-reel catch behind him Wednesday night.
“That’s why I call him Big Cat,” the starter said, making a play on Adams’ nickname. “Big City? He’s Big Kitty. He moves well over there. He’s a big fella but he has quick feet and he’s got good hands.”
Those compliments are a product of commitment. Early in 2016, Adams was a forgotten man. He was competing for playing time with Brandon Moss, a big-swinging lefty himself, and seemed to have his back against the wall.
Not only did the 27-year-old swing his way out of the corner (honestly, take a moment to appreciate his spray chart), he used the leather to push himself into an everyday role. More impressively, he did it while getting limited playing time.
“Beginning of the year, I was talking with (hitting coach) David [Bell] about upping the intensity with ground balls,” Adams said. “Treating them like game speed and that really helped out for sure.”
Oquendo has also helped out, offering constructive criticism to Adams when he was able to watch his student. The long-time third base coach and infield instructor has been apart from the team this year due to a knee injury, but has maintained contact with his charges.
“I’ve talked to him. He’s been here a couple times and if he saw some things, we’d go over them.,” Adams said, noting Oquendo is always helping, even if he’s not present. “If he sees something, he’ll get in touch with Yadi and let me know what I need work on.”
Oquendo has been credited with shaping many Cardinal infielders and Adams has seemingly taken those lessons to heart.
His defensive improvement from 2014 to 2015 was extremely impressive, and though the advanced stats say 2016 isn’t as strong, any modicum of observation forces the “sample size” argument.
The big man can play the field.
He can stretch, he can run and, though they’re capable of unleashing fury at the plate, he has soft hands.
A year ago, Matt Adams was thought of as a footnote in the Cardinals’ history. Now, he’s inexorable from their future.