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‘Everything’s getting better’: Angels’ Jo Adell is hitting his stride in second MLB stint

Angels' Jo Adell (7) runs to third during a baseball game against the Texas Rangers
Since getting recalled Aug. 2, the Angels’ Jo Adell has a .268 batting average and has shown improvement defensively.
(Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

Since returning to the major leagues earlier this month, Angels outfielder Jo Adell has yet to showcase his most tantalizing skill. Eleven games in, the power-hitting outfielder has yet to hit a home run.

It seems to be the only thing missing so far in his second MLB stint.

Instead, the 22-year-old former first-round draft pick has been showcasing his other talents, the ones that failed him in his debut season last year. He failed to make the Angels’ opening day roster this spring so he spent the summer months trying to hone his skills in Class AAA.

The result: His defense is better. His approach at the plate is more disciplined. His swing is more consistent. And his overall play looks much more polished.

“That was really my only goal,” Adell said. “I told myself, when I come back, just try to be a factor in the lineup, try to contribute and keep moving.”

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Shohei Ohtani’s historic season should result in him being chosen as the American League’s top player, the Angels’ mediocre record notwithstanding.

That process continued on Saturday for Adell, even in the Angels’ 8-2 defeat to the Houston Astros.

On a fly ball by Jason Castro in the third inning, Adell broke to his right in left field, sprinted toward the foul line, then flung his body in the air, making an all-out diving catch at the edge of the warning track. As he stood back up, he pumped his fist and let out a yell.

Later, Adell stayed back on a slider from Astros starter Luis Garcia in the fourth inning and singled up the middle, giving him at least one hit in all but four games since rejoining the Angels.

“Everything’s getting better,” manager Joe Maddon said of Adell this week, adding: “Every part of his game has accelerated since last year.”

Last year, little went right for Adell in his Angels debut.

In 38 games, he hit just .161 with 55 strikeouts and seven walks. He struggled defensively, underscored by an infamous misplay in right field when a fly ball bounced off his glove and over the wall. And after some of those same issues resurfaced during spring training, he was sent to triple-A Salt Lake to start the season.

“When we left camp, we sent him out, we had a laundry list of things [for him] to do, and we gave it to the minor-league coaches to apply to him,” Maddon said. “And they have. Everything he’s doing is better. Everything he’s doing is more precise.”

It wasn’t an immediate transformation.

The Angels may finally have found a solution to their pitching issues, which means they need to pursue a big-time bat. Corey Seager could be the solution.

While Adell’s natural power showed up in Salt Lake, leading to 15 home runs in his first 30 games, he was still making too many outs and too many mistakes defensively. His swing was still a little too big, with too many moving parts. And his performance was still too inconsistent, too all-or-nothing for a big-league call up.

But then, little changes started to sink in.

At the plate, for example, Adell grew more disciplined not only at laying off pitches outside the zone but also at understanding how pitchers were trying to attack him.

Salt Lake manager Lou Marson cited one example: inside fastballs early in the count. Adell would either get jammed on the pitch or whiff entirely, putting himself in an early hole and allowing opponents to come back with breaking stuff to put him away. He became more patient and waited for pitches he could extend on.

“It’s so hard for pitchers to consistently throw inside, even at the major-league level. And umpires don’t really call it in there,” Marson said. “So if he can learn to take, even if it is a strike, so what? Just continue to look out over the plate.”

There were similar growth areas in the outfield as well. It wasn’t just Adell’s reads and routes that needed improvement, but his decision-making on throws, too.

“I’m pretty transparent, I believe honesty is the best policy,” said Angels general manager Perry Minasian, who kept in contact with Adell during his stint in the minors. “So being straightforward and saying, ‘Hey, defensively you need to be better.’ He’s worked his butt off and he has gotten better.”

Fernando Valenzuela made two starts with the Angels in 1991. And while he didn’t pitch well, he proved to himself he still belonged in the majors.

Those strides, on both sides of the ball, started showing up in the results. Each month in Salt Lake, Adell’s batting average and on-base-percentage rose, his strikeout-to-walk improved and his defensive impact became more apparent.

“I got to go out and play games, play competitive games, and get my rhythm,” Adell said. “That’s part of this game, finding your rhythm and finding the place where you can take off. And I was able to do that.”

And since getting recalled on Aug. 2, his early results as an everyday player have looked promising, with Adell currently holding a .268 batting average, performing dependably in the field and cutting down on his strikeout rate from last year.

“He’s a completely different player than I saw last year,” Maddon said. “You have to suck up some growing pains on occasion, which we did. And now he’s benefitting, and so are we.”

Adell is still far from being fully developed, as evidenced by other moments in Saturday’s game.

After his diving catch, he failed to deliver an accurate throw to home plate on a sacrifice fly. And in his other three at-bats on the night, he hit two soft pop-ups before finishing with a strikeout.

“It’s still a long way from the finished product,” Maddon said. “But it’s definitely headed in the right direction.”

And for Adell — who has long carried high expectations in the Angels farm system and will seemingly have the chance to compete for a starting corner outfield spot next season — that alone has represented a much-welcomed fresh start.

His power has never been in doubt. He’s starting to prove himself in other areas.

“These are plays I’ve worked on myself, parts of the game I have yet to showcase,” Adell said. “I’m at the point now where I’ve slowed it down, I’m playing the game and reacting to what’s coming to me. Not trying to force anything.”


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