By David Driver
For the Slippery Rock athletic website
Used with permission
3/12/2013 2:00:00 PM
BY DAVID DRIVER
VIERA Fla. – Former Slippery Rock University baseball standout Matt Adams came off the field after batting practice here March 8 on a sunny day in Florida when he was informed by a writer for MLB.com that teammate Allen Craig, a first baseman-outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, had signed a five-year contract with a team option for a sixth year in the neighborhood of $31 million.
That may seem like huge numbers for Adams, the only SRU product in the major leagues and a first baseman who could see his opportunities diminish with the Cardinals' commitment to Craig.
But Adams, a 230-pound left-handed slugger from Philipsburg who also plays first, took the news with aplomb as his team prepared to face the host Washington Nationals about one hour south of Cape Canaveral.
"Allen deserves it. He is a great player and he goes about his business the right way,” said Adams, standing in the St. Louis dugout about one hour before the first pitch on a 73-degree day. “I will continue to get better each day and try to get better offensively and defensively.”
Adams hopes to make the big league roster for Opening Day but also knows he could be sent to Triple A Memphis to start the 2013 season. And there is always the possibility of a trade.
"He has nothing else to prove [in the Minor Leagues]," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny told mlb.com in early March. "The guy can hit. It's just a matter of whether he fits in right. It's not a question of whether he can perform at this level. He can hit here or anywhere else. He doesn't really need to show us more."
“I really don't have a grasp what my opportunities of starting with St. Louis are going to be,” Adams said. “I just have to go about my business. If I do make the (big-league) team, great. If not I will go to Memphis again and get every day at bats.”
In his first 30 at bats this spring, he hit .333 with two homers and seven RBIs. “I feel really good at the plate right now,” he said.
Adams was the No. 6 prospect in the St. Louis farm system last year, according to MLB.com.
Adams, 24, hit .244 in 27 games and 86 at bats with six doubles, two homers and 13 RBIs for St. Louis last season. He also played in 67 games for Memphis, the top farm club of the Cardinals, and hit .329 in 258 at bats with 22 doubles, 18 homers and 50 walks.
What was the highlight of making The Show last year?
“Just getting the call when I was in Las Vegas at Triple A (while with Memphis)," Adams said. "They told me I was going to Los Angeles to meet the Major League team. That was just great."
It was fitting that he faced since the Dodgers, since he saw them play in the first big league game he attended in person at the age of 3 or 4 in Pittsburgh.
Adams played in high school at Philipsburg-Osceola for Doug Sankey, a former catcher under head coach Jeff Messer at The Rock. Adams was a catcher in high school and played there three years in college but also got some time at first base, which Messer figured would be his best pro position. He was drafted after his junior year at The Rock and he said he keeps in touch with “nine or 10” of his former Rock teammates.
“For a big guy he has quick feet and good hands,” Messer said. “I liked him right from the get go. The ball came off his bat a little different” than most.
After Adams made his big league debut on the road against the Dodgers, the first call that came to Messer was from Dan Duquette, the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations of the Baltimore Orioles.
Messer, a product of Springfield College, played in college against Duquette, who went to Amherst. And Adams was the MVP of the New England Collegiate Baseball League when he played one summer with the Pittsfield Dukes, who were owned by Duquette.
Adams once hit a homer with Duquette and Messer in the stands and Duquette told the SRU coach that day Adams had a chance to go far.
Adams was drafted by the Cardinals out of SRU in the 23rd round in 2009 and worked his way up the minor league ladder. He was a milb.com organizational all-star in 2012 and was one of the few Division II products in The Show last year. Another one was Ryan Vogelsong, a pitcher for the Giants who played at Kutztown University.
“The thing I wanted to take out of it was to get drafted and that was step one,” Adams said. “I wanted to work and get better. I did well in the minors and was able to make my debut last year.”
Plate discipline was an issue, Adams admits, during his time in the majors.
He had just five walks with 24 strikeouts while with St. Louis and had 15 walks with 57 strikeouts while in Memphis. “My weak spot was chasing balls out of the strike zone,” he said. “I think the big leaguers can locate all of their pitches. They can throw a 3-0 change or slider for strikes. That is the biggest thing I took out it.”
Adams worked out in his hometown this past winter and used a pitching machine that threw curves and change ups. “We would set it at different speeds and throw borderline pitches. That helped out a lot. It is tough to see a ball come out of a machine and then see the ball come out of a pitcher's hand,” he said. “But I am seeing the ball better.”
Whether or not that means he will be with the Cardinals on Opening Day will play out in the next few days. St. Louis opens the season April 1 at Arizona.
Editor's note: Freelance writer David Driver, a former baseball player at Division III Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia and a resident of Maryland, has covered minor and major league baseball for 20 years. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com