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Champ or Chump: Jo Adell

For as different as the 2020 fantasy season has been, one thing hasn't changed: fantasy owners love top prospects. Nate Pearson generated significant intrigue when Toronto (Buffalo?) summoned him to the MLB club, especially with so many scrambling for pitching. Now, the Angels have summoned their top prospect and the sixth-ranked prospect in the entire game per MLB Pipeline: outfielder Jo Adell

Adell was drafted in 2017 as a toolsy outfielder who would need to overcome significant swing-and-miss to access his raw power in games. His detractors in the scouting world didn't think he would, but his supporters believed that his elite bat speed would make up for it. The Angels fell into the latter camp, selecting Adell with the 10th overall pick.

Adell has had successful stretches in the minors, but the totality of his work suggests that he might be more of a project at the big-league level than a finished product ready to contribute in fantasy right away. He's currently owned in 55% of Yahoo! leagues, and his owners may wish to trade his prospect pedigree for a premium before his star begins to fade. Here's why:

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

What Scouts Like

 

Fantasy owners have free access to two reliable sources of scouting grades: FanGraphs and MLB.com. Here are Adell's grades on the 20-80 scouting scale per FanGraphs:

Fantasy owners love the combination of speed and power, but a 35-grade hit is really hard to work with. The fact that it isn't projected to hit the league-average of 50 in the future is worrisome as well. His speed is also expected to drop off as he fills out his frame.

MLB.com sees Adell more favorably, as evidenced by the grades below:

It would be nice if Adell offered a 55-grade hit tool to go with his power and speed, but this author just can't get there. Adell has over 1,000 minor league PAs, and they don't support anything near an MLB-average hit tool.

 

Adell in the High Minors

 

Adell first reached Double-A (Mobile) at the tender age of 19 in 2018. Unfortunately, he looked completely overwhelmed in his brief 71 PA sample. He didn't hit that well, slashing .238/.324/.429 with two homers and two steals. He struck out at an alarming 31% clip, including an atrocious 18.4 SwStr% that suggests his swing-and-miss issues as a high schooler were still intact. His 9.5% HR/FB was also lacking for a prospect hyped in part for his raw power. It's impressive just to reach Double-A at such a young age, but it's tough to conclude that he was ready at the time.

Adell returned to Mobile in 2019 and fared much better: .308/.390/.553 with eight homers and six steals over 182 PAs. He cut his K% to 22.5% while increasing his walk rate from 8.5% to 10.4%, suggesting significant plate discipline gains. Likewise, his HR/FB nearly doubled to 18.6, suggesting that he learned to access his power. He also cut his SwStr% to 12.6, appearing to solve his greatest bugaboo.

The line looks great, but Hank Aaron Field likely had a lot to do it. Mobile ranked as the best ballpark for BABIP in the Southern League last season and in the 87th percentile of the overall MiLB landscape. It also ranked third in the Southern League with a 1.095 HR factor, though that only ranked in the 45th percentile in MiLB due to the power explosion at the Triple-A level. Adell slashed .343/.430/.687 at Mobile but just .283/.359/.457 on the road, suggesting he made great use of his favorable home environment. He was young for the level, but at least some of his progress was likely a mirage.

The Angels gave Adell a chance at the more neutral Triple-A (Salt Lake), and all of his previous problems returned. He hit .264/.321/.355 with no homers and one steal over 132 PAs. His 26 FB% was very low for a power prospect, and a HR/FB of zero is never what you want to see. He struck out at an alarming 32.6% rate fully supported by his 19 SwStr%. His BB% declined to 7.6%. Overall, it was a clear step backward that should have warranted a return to Triple-A in 2020 if such a thing was possible. Of course, it isn't and the Angels are the only way for Adell to participate in live game action.

Adell had a 36.4 FB% at Double-A and a whopping 55.3% mark there in 2018, so it's not like Adell has consistently struggled to hit the ball in the air. Still, the fact that a guy with 70-grade Raw Power has hit only 35 HR total over 1,004 MiLB PAs suggests that he's not a finished product yet.

 

Injury Concerns

 

Astute readers may have noticed that Adell logged only 314 PAs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019, roughly half of a full season. The reason why were hamstring and ankle injuries that cost him the first two months. According to his Baseball Savant scouting report, the injury made Adell reluctant to run even after he returned, compromising one of his fantasy assets.

Sadly, such issues are nothing new for the top prospect. He also had a shoulder issue that limited him to DH duties in 2017, leaving his defense as a question mark until last season. For the record, he is now considered a plus defender.

Adell's injury history is especially relevant considering that he missed the Angels games on August 6 and 7 due to "quadriceps tightness." You obviously hope the kid can get healthy and have an opportunity to contribute, but his track record has a lot of significant injuries for somebody so young.

 

Conclusion

 

Scouts love Adell, and the fact that his MiLB resume is a mixed bag doesn't mean that he has no value to the Angels or keeper league owners. However, his lack of production to date and limited exposure to advanced pitching means that he is very much a work-in-progress who is unlikely to do his best work in 2020 or even 2021. He also hit seventh in his first two games, a lineup role that adds zero fantasy value. If you're playing for the near-term, the prudent play may be to flip him at the peak of his prospect luster.

Verdict: Chump (based on raw skills that have yet to translate to fantasy-friendly production)



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