Growing up as a young boy in Scottsdale, AZ, right-hander Chance Adams looked up to Willie Mays and dreamed of one day making it to the Bronx while playing for his first travel team, the McDowell Mountain Yankees. Less than a decade later, the 24-year old hurler is looking to pitch his way onto the New York Yankees big league roster after making his highly anticipated major league debut last summer.
“Obviously I would like to have more time in the big leagues this season,” said Adams. “Not just time, but more appearances and more innings – just to get the taste and get the feel, and be successful while doing it. I would say that my ultimate goal is to try to help the team win when I am able to come up and help, or if I am there the whole time. I just want to contribute and do my part.”
Adams, a 2015 fifth-round draft selection, rocketed through the Yankees system after making the transition from collegiate reliever to professional starter. Throughout 2016 and 2017, his first two full-seasons in pro-ball, Adams exploded onto the scene and firmly entrenched himself atop prospect rankings by going 28-6 with a cumulative 2.39 ERA in 277 2/3 innings of work.
Following two dominant campaigns in the upper-levels, 2018 arrived with massive expectations for Adams. After undergoing offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, the top-prospect struggled immensely through April and May, posting a 6.05 ERA over his first 10 starts for Triple-A Scranton. His once patented command (0.97 WHIP thru 2017) had ballooned to a season mark of 1.38 over that early stretch. Adams velocity, which typically ranged between 93-96 MPH was suddenly topping out only around the 94 MPH mark.
“I don’t like to blame things for what happened, or anything like that,” said Adams. “I don’t know the facts about surgery and what it does or does not entail, but I do know that I worked my butt off that offseason and I was expecting to come back ready. I don’t know the surgery procedure and how you’re supposed to be the next year, but I don’t like to blame that for what happened.”
As the summer had arrived on the east coast, Adams began to warm with the weather and the tide of his season turned once June rolled around. Over the next two months, the righty posted a 3.33 ERA over 11 starts. Adams turned in his most dominant showing of the season on July 31 at Rochester, a start in which he went 7 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run and scattered just two hits while striking out eight.
Just days after that benchmark start, the Yankees rotation was suddenly in a state of flux, and the organization needed a spot-starter for a pivotal Saturday afternoon matchup at Fenway Park against the rival Red Sox, whom they were chasing in a heated race for the division title. Failed starter Sonny Gray was bumped from the rotation to the pen, newly acquired starter J.A. Happ landed on the DL with hand, foot, and mouth disease, and Luis Cessa was forced into extended mop-up action during the series opener with Boston. It was a perfect storm of circumstances and a less than ideal scenario for Adams to make his long-anticipated debut.
“When I first heard word of it, and I think it was through my agents the day before, I kind of got butterflies and thought it was cool,” Adams admitted. “The next morning I woke up from a bunch of texts asking if I had heard anything, and I hadn’t. think it had to be within thirty minutes later that I went downstairs to grab a bowl of cereal and I went back upstairs and was getting a phone call from Bobby [Mitchell], and he told me that I had better come to grab my stuff because I had to go up and pitch.”
Adams added, “I called my family and my girlfriend and my agents – they were all so excited, as was I. I just did my usual stuff, my usual routine. It was an unbelievable experience.”
The 24-year old made two additional appearances for the Yankees, both coming as a reliever after moving to the bullpen for Scranton in preparation for use as an extra arm in the big league pen as a September call-up.
“It was good to be with the guys up there in September and to see how everything kind of works up there,” said Adams. “The other two times that I went up, I wasn’t there all that long. To be up there for that long of a time, it was good to watch how everybody went about their stuff over long periods of time. It gives me a good barometer going into the future.”
Adams began his offseason throwing program this past November and placed a strong emphasis on figuring out his slider, which he admits had contributed to his vast array of struggles this past season. Regaining his pre-surgery velocity and the sharpness on his slider will be particularly important for Adams moving forward.
“I would like to fine-tune my slider a little bit more if I could think of something,” said Adams. “I have trouble with it some days and I just cannot locate it at all. I want to see if I can figure out if it is a grip-thing or a release-thing, or something else that I may be doing.“
With 2018 in his rearview mirror and a clear motivation to prove that he is indeed still a long-term foundation piece to the Yankees puzzle, Adams reports to spring training in Tampa this week with a willingness to fill any role on the staff that will help the organization win, whether it be as a starter or reliever.
“I like starting while I have been doing it; it’s been a lot of fun, it’s been a lot of hard work. Going back to reliever was also hard work, and so is reliever life. I would be fine doing whatever helps the team. One of the biggest differences that I have noticed is that as a starter, you can kind of work your way into the game a little bit more. You start the game and hitters have to see you, they have to adjust to the field, and the sun and lighting, and all of that stuff. As a reliever, you come in later in the game, and they’ve already seen everything, and you have to be on the dot and hit your mark. You have to come in and just be chucking it; you can’t take a little bit off, you just have to come in and go full throttle.”
Adams added, “I have been fortunate enough to have been able to do both, there are definite upsides and downsides to both – every reliever and every starter likes to say that theirs is harder. I don’t know; I like them both. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team.“