The bat that St. Louis Cardinals backup first baseman Matt Adams packs at the plate has a reputation that precedes it.
Adams has demolished balls at every level of professional baseball. His lightning fast bat speed, combined with a tight swing and a good eye, is what have carried Adams to where he is today.
Little has been said of his glove—until now, that is.
The last couple of weeks, thanks to an abundance of interleague play, have given the oft-underplayed Adams a much needed period of consistent playtime. The Cardinals have benefited from having him in the lineup both offensively and defensively.
“I'm surprising myself,” he said following Friday night's victory over the Marlins. “Last year I wouldn’t have got to those balls I got to the past two nights. It’s just the work I put in this offseason and the work that Jose [Oquendo] has been doing with me since spring training.”
Any mention of his defense is quickly turned around with ample credit to third base coach Jose Oquendo.
“He’s a great guy to have for our infield guys,” Adams said in a pregame interview while he prepped for the night's game. “He positions us where he thinks the guys are going to hit, and that helps out big time.”
Part of that training, he said, has dealt with changing the defender's angles of attack by better positioning.
He said the key to good defense is paying close attention to Oquendo to see where he wants him on the field. Sometimes he can be seen checking not just between batters, but between pitches.
“It cuts down a couple steps,” Adams said. “He’s very, very smart in the way he goes about things with the infield guys.”
Manager Mike Matheny said he thinks Adams has been underestimated defensively for quite some time because of his size. Those people may be eating their words this week.
“He’s quicker, too, than what people are going to give him credit for being a big fellow,” Matheny said. “But he’s made some real nice plays going side to side.”
Adams' defensive growth is a big benefit to the Cardinals because it means bringing him into a game isn't offering up offense at the cost of defense. The young man, called 'Big City' by his teammates, is the whole package.
“He really moves well,” Matheny said. “You talk to Jose Oquendo, and he really likes the way [Adams] catches the ball, the way he moves, his first step, and just his instincts over there.”
Don't be misled by his relaxed, country demeanor either. Adams has a sharp baseball mind. He doesn't just show up at the park with his bat hoping to smash home runs―he does his homework.
That's not easy for a guy who doesn't know if he will be playing from one game to the next.
“I just come to the park, get my workout in the gym, go down to the cage and get my early swings in and then hit the video room,” Adams said of his normal afternoon routine.
That's his everyday routine. It goes different directions, however, depending on whether he's starting or will be working off of the bench.
“I check to see if my name is in the lineup and then check out the starter that day,” he said. “If my name’s not in the lineup, I just go through the bullpen and see what their pitchers’ tendencies are.”
Adams checks out each reliever's individual pitches and when they like to use them. He wants to know what they will throw to a left-handed batter on a 2-2 count before the pitcher knows.
So far, it's worked for him.
The humble 23-year-old from Philipsburg, Penn. is quick to divert the credit for his accomplishments to those who help him every day.
“Our staff as a whole has a lot of guys who had great MLB careers and know a lot about the game,” Adams said. “So, I mean it's rubbing off on the players and you can see it. The guys take to the field, play their best and want to get the 'W' that night.”
For him, that means working hard to stay fresh both offensively and defensively.
“I just keep taking ground balls,” he said. “So, the days I’m not in there, I just have to stay fresh with that so the glove stays smooth, and I’m ready for when the games pick up.”
Adams' swing has been smooth from day one. That's partly due to his maturity as a hitter. Adams is not a power hitter―he's a consistent hitter who has serious power.
That can carry a player a long way in this league.
One thing is certain. If he keeps it up, 'Big City' won't be headed back to the country any time soon.
All quotes obtained firsthand.