Will Adams get his “chance” in Kansas City? (And could it be as an “Opener”?)

I received this comment from someone on the blog a day ago on the post on Randy Rosario and Glenn Sparkman making the Opening Day bullpen, and it got me thinking about a pitcher I had overlooked for the most part this Spring:

“So Chance Adams has performed very well this ST …so what are his chances breaking with the team in 2 weeks?”

James Kay

Honestly, this is not the first time I heard Adams’ name floated out there. A co-worker of mine is from New York and a huge Yankees fan, and even he was positive about Adams. He noted that the change in ballpark and situation would be a much better fit for Adams, and that the Royals got a “good one”. Considering this co-worker obsesses about baseball and the Yankees as much as I do baseball and the Royals, I felt that there was some legitimacy to what he said.

As of now, according to Fangraphs’ Roster Resource Depth Charts, it does not seem that Adams is projected to make the 26-man roster by Opening Day. On a positive note, he is on the 40-man roster, which means that he does have an outside shot, since the Royals would not have to release anyone from the 40-man to bring him up to Kansas City.

So what are Chance Adams’ “chances” (ha, see what I did there?) of making the Royals’ Opening Day roster? And if he doesn’t, how soon will he be up in Kansas City, and what will he offer the Royals bullpen in 2020?

After a rough Spring debut (he blew the save in the Royals’ first Spring game of the year), I did note in a blog post that Adams had “something to prove” this Spring to keep his spot on the 40-man roster. However, Adams has responded after a poor Royals Spring Training debut, as he is posting a 1.69 ERA in five appearances with five hits allowed, two runs allowed (one earned), and zero walks to go along with five strikeouts. Adams has definitely settled down this Spring, and is making a case that he was worth acquiring from the Yankees this off-season.

A former Top-10 prospect in the Yankees system (According to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, he was rated 5th overall in the Yankees system in 2018 and 13th overall in 2019), Adams failed to transition his gaudy tools and hype to the Major League level. In 16 career appearances over two seasons with the Yankees, Adams has posted a 8.18 ERA, 7.05 FIP, 1.80 K/BB ratio, and minus-0.5 WAR. Yes, one could credit the pitcher-hostile confines of Yankee Stadium contributed to his lackluster numbers, but Adams’ combo of questionable command and tendency to give up a lot of contact (84.6 percent contact rate, according to Fangraphs) aren’t exactly promising signs that he can succeed at the Major League level.

One of the big developments though for Adams over the past year, and one worth paying attention to this Spring and in 2020, has been the use and effectiveness of his slider. After only using his slider 13.7 percent of the time in 2018, according to Baseball Savant, he increased his usage of the pitch in 2019 to 16.8 percent. And the increase in slider usage yielded some results, as his put away percentage with the pitch increased from 0 percent to 16.3 percent from 2018 to 2019, respectively. In fact, his slider was his most effective pitch “put away” wise, as his fastball was his second-best pitch in that category at 16 percent.

While Adams throws his fastball primarily (57.2 percent of the time), and generates more whiffs from his curve ball (23.7 whiff rate), his slider may be the difference in terms of whether or not Adams finds a regular role with the Royals in 2020 and beyond. The expected batting average against his slider was .174 last year, an improvement from the .304 mark in 2018. Furthermore, it was vastly lower than his fastball (.287) and his curve (.355), which could lead to it being used more in 2020 with the Royals. While I don’t think he’ll eliminate his curve, if Adams does stay in the pen in 2020, it might be likely that he’ll lean on his slider more, with the fastball-slider being his 1-2 primary combo rather than the fastball-curve which has been his MO the past two seasons as a Yankee.

Adams has seen a decline in velocity, as his fastball decreased from 93 MPH in 2018 to 91.7 MPH in 2019, according to Fangraphs PitchInfo data, and that will be a concern for the Royals in 2020. While there hasn’t been any issues with his velocity this Spring, things could change once the Major League season starts, whether he starts the year in Kansas City or Omaha. While he is starting to lean less on his fastball and more on his secondary pitches, it would be nice to see that fastball velocity stabilize or even uptick a little this season to give Royals fans and management a little bit more hope that he can be serviceable as a pitcher at the big league level.

Another interesting question regarding Adams will revolve around the role he will have with the Royals. Adams came up in the Yankees system as a starter, but he only started one game for the Yankees in his cup of coffee in New York the past two seasons. In Scranton Wilkes-Barre though, he was mostly used as a starter, as he started 15 of his 18 appearances in 2019, and 23 out of his 27 appearances in 2018. While a bullpen role may suit him to help with the velocity issues, there is some question if he could succeed in high-leverage situations as a Royal reliever.

While leverage splits data doesn’t point out much difference for Adams in different leverage situations (mostly due to the lack of data on Adams in general), an interesting scenario for Adams could involve him being an “Opener” for the Royals which would give him the limited innings work without the high leverage aura of coming out of of the pen. As of now, the Royals are set 1 though 4 in the rotation (Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, and Mike Montgomery). However, the fifth spot in the rotation remains a big question mark.

Depth Charts projects Jorge Lopez to get the spot, and he has been serviceable this Spring. However, he has unimpressive in the role the past two seasons and it would be nice to see Lopez work in limited innings rather than try to go 5-7, and face a lineup multiple times, where he has struggled immensely. Sparkman also seems better suited as a reliever, and didn’t wow anyone from the end of the rotation a year ago. And while some are clamoring for Brady Singer to make his debut at the start of the season from the 5th spot in the rotation, it seems likely that Singer will start in NW Arkansas or Omaha in order to preserve his service time, which would benefit the Royals more on a financial end long term.

While the Royals will probably wait and see with Singer, it could benefit the club to do an “opener by rotation” to start the year. It may last only a couple of months, but an “opener” would maximize some of their pitchers’ best strength (pitching in limited innings), while also keeping the risk low. An “opener” combo through the first four-to-five innings of Lopez and Adams, or Sparkman and Adams, or even Lopez and Sparkman could give the Royals the production they want from the fifth spot in the rotation, without having to put serious investment in a Royals pitcher in terms of expecting “starter” production (i.e. five or more innings of three-run or less pitching).

The Royals have tested the idea in the Minors with Zimmer and Staumont, but it didn’t really take hold, and it doesn’t seem like an old-school manager like Mike Matheny would be open to the idea. However, an “opener” role could be worth exploring for the Royals with Adams, and if they were willing to test it with those two in Omaha, it is possible that they may do the same with Adams if he starts the year with the Storm Chasers as well.

Adams has done well this Spring, but his lack of a defined role probably will keep him from making the Royals’ Opening Day roster. That being said, should the Royals explore an “opener” from the fifth spot in the rotation, don’t be surprised if Adams is the one they anoint with the role (along with Lopez and/or Sparkman).

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