By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
For the past couple of years former Holy Spirit star pitcher Mike Adams has been getting paid to teach high school and college players how to perform better. In a few months, he’ll stop getting checks from local South Jersey moms and dads for his services — not because he wants to stop coaching their sons, but he’ll have a new employer who will be signing his checks. The Philadelphia Phillies.
In a move reminiscent of the movie “The Rookie” about former Florida Marlins pitcher Jim Morris, Adams — who has been out of professional baseball for four years — is giving it another shot because of a 98 miles-per-hour fastball that was discovered yesterday at an MSI Pro Day. For years Adams has been taking some of the prospects he trains along with former St. Augustine Prep outfielder Ed Charlton Jr. at Baseball Performance Center in Pleasantville to workouts at Maplezone Sports Institute in Philadelphia. As a Major League Baseball scout, Adams wants to get the players he trains as much exposure as possible.
Well, some prodding from his prodigies put Adams on the mound at MSI on Monday, and by yesterday evening Adams was signing a minor-league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. He’ll report to spring training whenever minor-league spring training begins, as those dates have not yet been announced. Adams graduated from Holy Spirit in 2012 and Wagner College in 2016, then played a season with the Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders in the Can-Am Independent League. He wasn’t drafted out of high school or college, and this will be his first experience with an MLB-affiliated minor-league team.
“A couple of the guys we train with, I throw with them every day and they’ve been telling me I need to make a comeback. We have our guys go to MSI Pro Day every year and I was like, ‘you know what? I’ll throw.’ So, I went up there and threw and I was throwing 97-98, the Phillies called and I signed with them last night. They called right after (the workout). It was pretty crazy,” said Adams, a 26-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident and right-handed pitcher. “It’s tough for me, being a little bit older, and I’ve been out of baseball for a couple years so the story itself is one of a long shot. But I knew if I threw well enough someone might give me an opportunity. Once I threw yesterday and saw some of the reactions, I knew I had a pretty good shot.
“I graduated (college) in 2016 and played the 2016 season in Rockland, then came home and started BPC and was playing for Margate (in the Atlantic County Baseball League) the past three years. I was only about 90 to 94 in college and at Rockland, so this velocity jump is a pretty big one,” he continued.
Adams credits his surprising jump in velocity — about 4 miles-per-hour better than he was last summer or at the height of his college career — with cleaning up his mechanics. He and Charlton use a ton of technology that combine with radar guns to give readouts on everything from velocity to spin rate and the trajectory of a pitch. That information, coupled with daily video analysis, has helped make Adams an even better pitcher at age 26 than he was in high school or college.
“We study mechanics here and we’re always tinkering, and I use myself as a guinea pig. To better understand what everyone else is feeling, I need to be able to do it and feel it and manipulate it to them in a way they can understand, so I used my own throwing motion and mechanics (as an example) and I’ve learned a ton in the process. I’ve trained myself to throw pretty hard with some mechanical adjustments. It’s kind of crazy, but I guess that goes to show how bad my mechanics were in the first place. But some guys, as they get older and kind of get that ‘grown man strength’ is when they can move better and understand their bodies. But yeah, it is pretty rare to be able to do that in just one year,” he said. “In college, my change-up and my slider weren’t very good, but now with the technology it makes a lot of sense to me why they weren’t faring very well because they weren’t good pitches. I can adjust, and now hopefully those pitches will fare a lot better.”
Adams, who has what might be considered a slight frame for a pitcher at 5-foot-11 and about 175 pounds, said he just didn’t have the velocity to separate himself from the pack when he played in the independent league.
“There are so many right-handed arms that are 90 to 93 so you have to have some elite characteristics to be able to train yourself to become one of the top guys in that velocity range,” Adams said. “For me, it was more the secondary stuff. I could throw strikes but with my secondary pitches I couldn’t get a lot of swings and misses, so I had to add velocity. You have to find advantages and go at it that way.”
It’s been a crazy 24 hours for Adams and his family, as he now has a new lease on life in his professional baseball career. How far he’s willing to take it, he’s not sure yet, but as long as he can keep throwing 98 miles-per-hour, he feels like he has a shot to make it to Citizens Bank Park.
“(My timeline) depends. I’ll do whatever I have to do to live out my dream of being a big-league baseball player. I’ll have at it until somebody tells me I can’t,” Adams said. “(Throwing 97-98) definitely helps. In this day and age, velocity matters a ton and having that is something teams can always use. I’ll probably be a bullpen guy, so that will definitely help me. But I’m 26, so they are not looking to stash me in Single A, they are looking to work me up and do whatever they can to help me get where they need me to go.
“I’ve grown up a die-hard Phillies fan, I went to the World Series (in 2008), I went to the parade — they’ve been my favorite team since I was a little kid, so getting to play for them is the icing on the cake. And their minor-league affiliates are right here in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, so that’s another plus,” he added. “My life has been flipped upside down. Today is one of the best days of my life. It’s been an awesome day with so many people reaching out and congratulating me. It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been exciting.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays