MOOSIC — Up until the 2018 season, Chance Adam’s trajectory in the New York Yankees’ minor league system was linear.
After being drafted in 2015, he immediately shot up three levels from rookie ball to High-A Tampa in less than two months. Adams was promoted to Double-A Trenton at the age of 21 in 2016. One month into the right-hander’s 2017 campaign, he got the call to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
Adams finished with a 2.89 ERA across 21 starts with the RailRiders and was named an International League All-Star. His stock skyrocketed, as he was designated the Yankees’ second-best prospect and MLB’s No. 53 prospect at the end of a career year.
Although, Adams experienced his first setback.
It was revealed just before the 2018 season that he underwent surgery on his elbow during the offseason to extract a bone spur that flared up at the end of 2017.
An abnormal offseason could have set up Adam’s worst season since being drafted. He finished with a 4.78 ERA over 113 innings, allowing a career-high 16 home runs and walking 4.6 batters per nine innings. What was a mid-nineties fastball now averaged between 91-93 miles per hour.
“I try to think that (surgery) wasn’t (a factor). It was just a bad year,” Adams said. “It was just a rough one for me. The velocity wasn’t there, life wasn’t there for me. It was just kind of tough in that aspect.”
With a full year under his belt post-surgery, he was ready to bounce back. A normal offseason routine certainly helped, but even then, Adams says nothing ever quite feels the same after a surgery like he had.
His first three starts of the 2019 season were less than ideal. His ERA ballooned to 10.32 after allowing five runs in four innings to Lehigh Valley on April 17. Opponents were hitting .314/.426/.647 and Adams had walked 10 batters in 11.1 innings.
“It was probably a command thing more than anything else early on,” Scranton Wilkes-Barre manager Jay Bell said.
Adams added, “When I wasn’t doing well, I was kind of like ‘Oh shit.’ But you can’t really keep that mentality. It’s got to get flushed out pretty easily.”
On April 24, Adams picked up his first win of the year — and his first as a starter since last June — going six shutout innings with nine strikeouts. The command showed an evident improvement, as he walked just one batter.
“Once he got in the swings of things, he ended up starting to throw really well,” Bell said.
Since that outing, Adams has been nearly unbeatable. In seven appearances, including a short stint in the MLB, Adams boasts a 1.40 ERA. He’s walked just eight batters and struck out 34 in that span, holding opponents to a .169/.231/.213 slash line. He’s also won four of the five games he’s started while allowing zero home runs in his last 38.2 innings pitched.
“The velocity really isn’t there but I feel like there’s life on the ball,” Adams said. “The defense is making great plays. The catcher is calling a good game. I’ve got all that too.”
Bell sees a stark improvement in Adam’s slider and notes that he is more aggressive in attacking opposing hitters.
“His slider is a little bit shorter. There’s a little bit later break,” he said. “The fastball command and his velocity has been really good, but adding in the change of the shape of the slider has been really effective.”
Adams was initially called up to the Yankees as a fresh arm to stash in the bullpen on May 13, as he was rained out of his scheduled start the previous day. The Yankees were also rained out the day he was recalled, but Adams stayed on the roster and did not make an appearance until May 19.
It had been 12 days since he last threw. Adams said he never experienced that kind of layoff but understands he needs to be flexible whenever called upon.
“Where I’m at right now, I need to be ready for anything. I just need to keep that mindset and be focused and ready for what I need to do, which is go in when they need me right now until I can earn a spot like everyone else there.”
The extra days proved to be insignificant, as Adams pitched three innings of one-hit ball against the Rays, earning an impressive save. He made one more relief appearance before being sent back down to Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
Since being back, he’s twirled 13 scoreless innings across two starts, including his first career shutout on Wednesday.
“He’s pounding the strike zone. He’s been much more aggressive in the strike zone. I think that’s been a big thing,” Bell said. “He’s done a fantastic job since he’s been back.”
Adams has turned in one of the most dominant stretches of his young career and is quietly returning to one of the best arms in the Yankees minor league system.