Here's what I can say for sure as the Angels get set to call up top prospect Jo Adell: He has a ton of talent. Most every MLB prospect list had him in the top five coming into the season. Mine had him sixth.
Here's what I can't say for sure: what exactly he's been doing with that talent.
Such is the nature of prospect development in 2020, when minor-leaguers are working out mostly in secrecy, without any statistics to clue us into their progress. Often in the lead up to a call-up, there's a steep increase in production, sometimes accompanied by unbelievable plate discipline, to suggest a player is about to explode onto the scene. Those were the telltale signs for prospects like Juan Soto and Yordan Alvarez the past couple years, and I responded with the appropriate enthusiasm.
But Adell? At last look, he still had some work to do. His promotion to Triple-A Salt Lake late last season — an extremely hitter-friendly environment even before the introduction of the juiced ball — was a flop. He went homer-less in 121 at-bats while striking out at a 32.6 percent rate, which would have been one of the highest marks in the majors.
His performance in the Arizona Fall League was a little better — he homered three times in 99 at-bats with a more palatable 26.1 percent strikeout rate — but again, it wasn't the sort of performance that would suggest major-league readiness. Nor would these comments from manager Joe Maddon just three weeks ago ...
"He has things to work on, quite frankly," Maddon told The Orange County Register. "Don't be deceived by a couple well-struck balls in [an intrasquad] game." Maddon praised Adell's ceiling and said he's a big part of the team's future. "But, again, there's really no rush," he said. "I've been around situations where guys have been rushed, and when you do that, you could lose a really good player."
Granted, Adell wouldn't be the first high-profile prospect to be sent down at the start of a season amid vague claims of him needing improvement (usually with regard to defense, which allows for plausible deniability since offensive readiness is plainer to see) when it's really just service time manipulation. But this move caught me so by surprise that I nearly dropped Adell the night before in my Tout Wars league — exactly the sort of 15-team, five-outfielder format where he'd be of the greatest interest. I thought in this case, Maddon was acknowledging what seemed evident in the statistics: He genuinely isn't ready.
So is he now? I'm not doubting that a near-finished product could make significant development strides in just three weeks' time. I am doubting what sort of development is actually happening at Angels camp. Are intrasquad games as conducive for development as actual minor-league games would be? Are they actually playing intrasquad games with regularity? We're completely in the dark here, and so judging what I can judge — i.e., the last numbers we saw from Adell — I'm inclined to believe, as Maddon feared, that he's being rushed.
Or am I being too pessimistic? I'm normally the guy saying these top prospect call-ups are always worth a flier just in case they deliver on their upside right way, which is difficult to predict and, in Adell's case, it could mean five-category production akin to Luis Robert. No doubt, it makes sense to take a flier on a potentially transcendent talent when it's presented to you. I'm just urging caution in this case, particularly in light of this season's early surge in exciting waiver claims, to consider what you'd be giving up to get Adell.
Most people have a move they can make painlessly enough, but not everyone does. If you just won a hard-fought battle for Mike Yastrzemski or Cristian Javier and would have to cut him loose to shoot your shot with Adell, I'm not sure I'd do it either. The possibility of the 21-year-old meeting his upside right away seems lower than usual to me.
So take inventory of what you have, size up what you can live without, and put in your claims. And if you just can't find a way to squeeze Adell onto your roster, particularly in a shallower 10-team league, I say there's no shame in that.