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.
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