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Matt Adams and The Hammer

Elizabeth, N.J. is known to St. Louis Cardinals minor league followers as the birthplace of the organization’s top prospect, currently-suspended 21-year-old right-handed pitcher Alex Reyes.

An earlier native of the same New Jersey burg made his mark in the majors as the slugging first baseman-designated hitter of the Kansas City Royals from 1993-1996, Bob Hamelin.

Hamelin became an every-day player in the strike year of 1994, when the power hitter went on to blast 24 home runs, drive in 65 and post an OPS of .987. In the process, he beat out Cleveland’s Manny Ramirez for the American League Rookie of the Year award.

His success was short-lived, though. “The Hammer” suffered through a series of leg injuries, never playing in more than 110 games in any of his six partial seasons in the majors. As his numbers dropped off markedly following his first-year success, the Royals finally cut him loose at the conclusion of 1997 spring training.

Hamelin moved to the Tigers that season and was done with the big leagues after hitting .219 with a .699 OPS for the 1998 Milwaukee Brewers. He quit baseball entirely in the middle of a Triple-A game with Toledo at the age of 31 in 1999.

You may wonder why I am sharing this Hamelin lesson.

Here is why. I will never forget the two-word response I once received from a talent evaluator whom I respect greatly when I asked him for his impression of then-Cardinals first base prospect Matt Adams.

His reply was simply, “Bob Hamelin”.

Of course, the suggestion being made was that Adams would not have long-term success as a power-hitter in the majors and his numbers would fall off relatively quickly.

This is especially topical today as Adams is currently at the same point of his career as when the Royals gave up on Hamelin, after his third full-season in the bigs.

Similar to Hamelin almost two decades earlier, Adams got out of the gates in a promising manner, logging what has been his career bests in home runs, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS as a rookie in 2013. However, his numbers have fallen off each year since as the Cardinals’ big man also struggled with injuries.

One key difference, though, is that Adams’ high wasn’t all that high. His best season wasn’t in the same league as Hamelin’s strike-shortened debut. In other words, Adams did not have as far to fall. Still, his .657 OPS last season was a huge disappointment.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was recently quoted as saying his club needs a .900 OPS first baseman, not a .750 one. It was a pointed reminder that first base is one position at which St. Louis could markedly upgrade its often-sluggish offense.

I am not suggesting Adams will be released this coming spring as was Hamelin, but I do suspect his days as an every-day starter with St. Louis may be over. Even when healthy, Adams could not hit left-handed pitching and still struggles against the ever-present defensive shifts.

In 2016, maybe he will find himself being given another chance to break through as the busier half of a platoon with Stephen Piscotty – or perhaps he will simply become a reserve behind a flashy new acquisition such as Chris Davis.

Or just maybe, Adams will soon follow Hamelin’s path toward his own Detroit, Milwaukee and Toledo.

1994 ROY 101 375 24 65 0.282 0.388 0.599 0.987 2013 108 319 17 51 0.284 0.335 0.503 0.839
1995 72 242 7 25 0.168 0.278 0.313 0.591 2014 142 563 15 68 0.288 0.321 0.457 0.779
1996 89 299 9 40 0.255 0.391 0.435 0.826 2015 60 186 5 24 0.240 0.280 0.377 0.657
total 262 916 40 130 0.242 0.360 0.469 0.829 total 310 1068 37 143 0.279 0.318 0.457 0.775

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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46 Responses to “Matt Adams and The Hammer”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Yeah, I don’t see Adams having a future as the Cardinals first baseman.

    I don’t want Chris Davis, unless he comes at a contract no bigger than 4/80. Of course, that is not going to happen, which is why I want another option for first base. I still think moving Carpenter to 1st and getting another 3B is the solution.

    I suspect if the Cards don’t sign Davis there will be a rotating combo of Moss/Adams/Piscotty in the short term. Not what I want, but then I rarely get what I want.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Or get a shortstop and move Peralta to third. They are going to have to be flexible as it doesn’t look like there is an MLB starting-quality infielder anywhere near St. Louis in the minors. The good news, as you point out, is that Carpenter can play all three positions other than shortstop. That is one reason I’d rather get another option at short.

      • crdswmn says:

        Yes, I suppose that is an option as well, though I question whether Peralta has any better of an arm for 3B than Carpenter does.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Improving shortstop defense has value, too.

          • crdswmn says:

            Surely. But it’s quite probable that Peralta is a better SS than he is a 3B. He doesn’t have enough innings at 3B to really know, and Peralta has been quite good at SS (admittedly he looks by the eye test to be declining there).

            The best SS has already been traded, a few good ones are not likely moving (Crawford, Escobar, etc). Perhaps Mo could swindle Hechavarria from Miami, but I have no idea who else might be available at the right price.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Adams had a solid second season, averaging .288. He has a nice tight stroke. He could return to form, with health the governing factor. Lots of players have sophomore or third year slumps and perk up thereafter.

    Adams’ injury during 2015 is worrisome. He needs to rehab and could afford to shed a bit of weight.

    • Brian Walton says:

      And Skip Schumaker and Jon Jay have hit .300 over multiple full seasons each. Do you consider them starting material on a championship ball club? I do not.

      Specifically, which of these “lots of players” you mention who “perk up” would you compare to Adams and why?

      • blingboy says:

        Remember when The Kozmanator perked up for a month? He perked down too. Perking works both ways.

        I dozed off just after dinner and dreamed Mo did nothing this winter and we opened with Piscotty at 1B and and OF of Holliday, Grichuk and Jay. It was horrible. I think it must have been bad pate’.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Kozma and Dan Descalso did distinguish themselves briefly in late 2012. If I recall, Kozma may have had some days off so was able to bring youthful enthusiasm at a time when many are tapped out. This was not a sustained perk.

          Jay is the latest illustration of the strange Brendan Ryan effect, in which a player has a post season hand operation and after this medical care becomes less effective as a hitter.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    In 2011, the cards won it all versus the Rangers. Skip started Game 7 in CF, IiRC.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      I may know the same scout. Years ago, he confided to me that Prince Fielder would never amount to a hill of beans. Prince is 5’11”, 275, makes Matt Adams look like Adonis. However, Fielder ended up earning a 10 year, $200mm contract. It can be hard to see the future.

      • Brian Walton says:

        In other words, you have nothing, so you question the credibility of my contact. This comes from an anonymous message board poster who admits he does not watch games and has imaginary conversations with GMs and scouts.

        If you were an owner, you’d probably be like Marge Schott, who famously fired her scouts, saying, “All they do is sit around and watch ball games.”

        Though completely irrelevant to Matt Adams, Fielder was always a top prospect. After all, he was the seventh overall pick in the first round in 2002 as a high schooler. In the minors, Fielder blasted 91 homers and had a career .921 OPS.

        Less than 36 months later, having just turned 21, he was in the majors. His first full season, he hit 28 homers. His second season, he blasted 50 and after that, for the next five years in a row, he never hit less than 30. His career MLB OPS is over .900. Whenever his early “downtick” was, that would easily have been a career-best year for Adams.

        Interestingly, while Adams hit fewer homers in the minors, his minor league OPS over six years was almost the same as Fielder at .922. Unlike Fielder, who continued to perform at the same level in the bigs, the MLB Adams has a dull .767 OPS with St. Louis.

        If you added Adams’ best TWO home run years together, the total falls short of Fielder’s career one-season MLB AVERAGE.

        Apples and oranges.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Adams’ :”minor league OPS over six years” is a typo. Relax.

          Fielder is 2nd generation, son of a Major Leaguer, got a lot of advantages. Adams, in contrast, grew up in central Pennsylvania, no bonus baby. Hit his way to the majors from a Division 3 school, hard to do.

          Adams performed well as a rookie and during his second season, 2014, including three post season home runs. Adams seemed ready to build on 2014’s success, but got off to a slow start and then had his season curtailed by injury. Injuries happen. Its not clear Adams is now washed up. We shall see. Time reveals all.

          Fielder has been durable, which I respect. He walks a lot and maintains a fine on base percentage. Nonetheless I am very glad we have Adams rather than Fielder, because Adams is much less costly, while Fielder only had 23 home runs last year, IIRC, despite playing in Dallas.

          • Brian Walton says:

            Not a typo. It is accurate per BBRef, but I agree it is misleading. Four real seasons plus just token (rehab) appearances in two others.

          • blingboy says:

            Apart from injury, slow start and the shift, Adams has had ample opportunity to prove that he can’t hit lefties. So at best, he is a platoon player. Pitching and defensive strategies have been very effective against him, going back to around the middle of 2014.

            If Adams was not taught to hit to all fields effectively before he arrived in MLB, then there is hope. He could learn. If he was taught but did not learn, then there isn’t hope. The Cards org will know which is the case. My guess is the latter.

            I mentioned elsewhere that we will find out this coming week whether Brandon Moss gets non-tendered. The Cards will not pay him $8Million next year unless he will be a starter.

            • Brian Walton says:

              To date, most of the non-tender speculation I have heard is about Bourjos. Because there is a feeling that he may be non-tendered, some potential trade partners may be waiting until then. I have heard at least one story line that the Cards will go ahead and tender him and deal him later.

              Interesting point of view about Moss. Stepping back, it is pretty clear that he is more valuable than Bourjos. Using the line of thinking above, the question is whether the potential mismatch between his value and salary is more or less out of line than Bourjos’.

              Long-winded way of saying that with no guarantee of Heyward returning and no better options at first base yet, I don’t think the Cards will let Moss walk now – even though his 2016 role is unclear.

            • crdswmn says:

              “The Cards will not pay him $8Million next year unless he will be a starter.”

              Yes they will. They paid Ty Wigginton 5 million to sit at home and watch TV. $8M is pocket change for a $1B baseball franchise.

              • Brian Walton says:

                It also does not mean Moss couldn’t be traded later in the winter or in the spring if the Cards come up with better options at first base.

                P.S. I forgot to mention above that I would not be surprised if Cishek is non-tendered.

                • crdswmn says:

                  Agree. Moss will be tendered, the $8M is not a roadblock. The Cards are paying Jon Jay almost $7M to be a 4th or 5th OFer

                  As for Bourjos, everyone know how I feel about that situation. I want him off the team, but not for the reason everyone else does. If they non-tender him they will be doing him a favor. But doing him a favor should not be their goal, I get that. I still think they will non-tender him, but he is so cheap, maybe not. He will have value to some team, even though he has none to the Cardinals.

                  • Brian Walton says:

                    The part where you and I disagree is that I believe the Cards see trade value in Bourjos.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      I see trade value in Bourjos. If the Cardinals do, they have not given any outward sign of it in the way he has been handled the last two seasons. His [non] use has tanked his trade value considerably, which is not something an organization who sees trade value in a player usually does.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      You mean like when TLR talked down Rasmus on TV while the player was still on the team?

                      In other words, I think you are off by assuming this or any “organization” acts 100 percent in concert all of the time. That would be ideal, but isn’t realistic.

                      Getting very specific, if a GM is going to meddle with the manager’s job and tell him who to play and who to not play, it had better be a lot more important situation than playing time for a reserve outfielder.

                      No matter how much or little time a player was given, if the GM thinks he can get value in return, he is going to try to maximize it. That is his job.

                      This is my opinion.

                    • blingboy says:

                      Re Bourjos’s trade value, he’s still here.

                    • blingboy says:

                      Re the sign and trade later idea for Moss, the same could be said for Cishek. In the case of either, the pay could reduce value to zero. Salary dump for a middling minor leaguer at best, send along cash at worst. I do see where we might have to hang onto Moss in case Mo can’t get Heyward or a 1B. He would know more about the chances of that than we do. Until Wednesday at least.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      I am not disagreeing with your basic premise. It is a GM’s job to maximize value of a player. Maybe where we disagree is in the idea that it is an acceptable practice for a GM to allow the manager to make his job more difficult. And yes, TLR did the same thing to Mozeliak, so it clearly is not an isolated thing. The unknown variable for me is what role, if any, the owners have played. Is it just the nature of Mozeliak to let the manager have his way, even if his way does damage to the efficient and best operation of the organization, or have the DeWitts’ forced him to allow it in the spirit of keeping up the appearance of unity (or for whatever other reason) I will never know the answer to this.

                      As someone who has worked in and around the business world my entire career, I happen to find this practice, behavior, etc, repugnant. But I don’t own or run a baseball team, so my feelings on the matter are entirely irrelevant.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      bling, is there something magical about Thanksgiving in your mind? You seem to unreasonably expect the off-season to end at least two months early.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      Bling, do you honestly think that Moss and Cishek have similar market value? In other words, do you see Rob Kaminsky and Kyle Barraclough as comparable? I sure don’t.

                      There are a number of Cishek types (deposed former closers) on the market each winter. The last one the Cards ended up letting go – Axford – had to settle for a minor league deal coming in. Power hitters are fewer and farther between and therefore more valuable, IMO.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      crdswmn, you have to pick your battles. If Mo isn’t going to take on Matheny over Bourjos, why would the DeWitts? You pointed out that it is a $1B organization. Micromanaging downline managers isn’t the way to run any good business, even if you don’t agree with every minor decision. Trust me, I have more than enough corporate experience to understand this in spades.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      Yes, I understand the pick your battles aspect of it. Perhaps I am entirely too invested in this particular situation (re Bourjos) to see it as clearly as you do. I believe Bourjos could have and should have been more than a reserve outfielder from the outset, and the circumstances and personnel (Matheny) that led down this path to him being what he ended up being is where the rubber meets the road for me. It’s like firing an employee because of performance when the subpar performance was the supervisor’s fault, not the employee’s. Yes, in the business world you cut your losses and move on, but that employee is harmed even after.

                      I have a different view of Bourjos so that really is the crux of all of this.

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Unicorn press Santa ana

  5. Bw52 says:

    I see a few trade possibilities out there; Trevor Plouffe 3B TWINS 22 HR 84 RBI .244 BA IIRC Crdswmn said PLouffe not much of a defensive 3B.He made 4.8 million salary in 2015 and the team would have him for 2 years before Free agency.
    Jed Lowrie SS-3B ATHLETICS

    • crdswmn says:

      The A’s are making Brett Lawrie available to trade, not Jed Lowrie. Jed Lowrie was just traded to the A’s two days ago.

      Plouffe is not a terrible defensive 3B just right at average or slightly below. Matt Carpenter is not a good defensive 3B either.

      Brett Lawrie may be slightly better than both of them, though he has been up and down defensively. He is, however, four years younger than Plouffe and 5 years younger than Carpenter. With the bat he is about league average, and so is Plouffe. Lawrie also has 2 years of control left.

  6. blingboy says:

    Maybe a package to get Valencia (who hits lefties very well) and Vogt. They would want young pitching of course, and we could insist they take Wisdom and Carson Kelly to replenish their 3B and C ranks.

    • crdswmn says:

      Their career numbers and 2016 projections are virtually identical. Offensively there is very little difference between them, and Lawrie is 6 years younger and a better defender.

      Valencia had a better 2015 but Lawrie has had a better career. My money is on Lawrie to be the better player going forward.

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