Angels’ Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh have something to prove after early struggles
They’ve been teammates, roommates and buddies for years, linked as the Angels’ top position-playing prospects by Baseball America three seasons in a row and by their shaky major league debuts.
Jo Adell took his lumps in pandemic-shortened 2020, batting .161 with a .478 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, three homers and seven RBIs while looking uncomfortable in right field for much of his 38-game stint in Anaheim.
Brandon Marsh looked overmatched at the plate for a month after being called up from triple A in July, the outfielder batting .155 with a .471 OPS, no homers and two RBIs in his first 24 games.
“It was a slap in the face at first, a wake-up call,” Marsh said. “It was good.”
That quote seems paradoxical, but as humbling as those early struggles were for Adell and Marsh, they were also character-building, necessary steps backward that often precede two steps forward for highly touted prospects.
Remember, even Mike Trout struggled as 19-year-old in 2011, batting .220 with a .672 OPS in his first 40 games before becoming a three-time American League most valuable player and nine-time All-Star.
What didn’t kill the budding careers of Adell and Marsh made them stronger, the resilience, determination and improved performance of the two young outfielders positioning them for bigger roles this year.
MLB and the players agreed to a rule that will allow pitchers like Shohei Ohtani who hit to remain in the game as the designated hitter after they stop pitching.
“The next step is to be considered an everyday major league player,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They’re both going to be that with good health.”
How quickly that potential is reached and in what form it takes will be determined over the final two weeks of spring training and evolve during the season.
Adell, who turns 23 on April 8, or Marsh, 24, could win the starting right-field job, or they could platoon there. The left-handed-hitting Marsh, who can play all three outfield spots and is the better defender, could platoon with Justin Upton in left field or win that spot outright if Upton struggles.
If either player is spending too much time on the bench, they could be sent back to Salt Lake, where they would get regular playing time.
“That’s the discussion, something we’ll have to look at going through the whole thing,” Maddon said. “These are young, really good baseball players. For a guy who’s older, who’s been around longer, [a platoon role] becomes more palatable.
“But for right now, I’m not saying we’re going to do that or not. It’s more difficult for me to wrap my mind around, because I would never want to inhibit the development of a young player.”
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Adell, a first-round pick in 2017, shredded triple-A pitching for the first three months of last season, batting .289 with a .934 OPS, 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 73 games.
He struggled after his early August promotion to the Angels, hitting .194 with a .549 OPS and one homer in his first 18 games, but finished with a flourish, batting .302 with an .867 OPS, three homers and 14 RBIs in his final 17 games. He finished with a .246 average, .703 OPS and 26 RBIs.
Adell simplified his pre-swing approach by removing excess movement and shortened his path to the ball, resulting in better plate discipline and more consistent contact.
He has looked comfortable and confident in the box this spring, hitting two homers and a triple in his first four exhibition games — including a drive over the batter’s eye in center field at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Tuesday.
“At the end of the day, pitchers are gonna supply the power, you know?” Adell said. “I’m trying to think in that way — how quickly I can get to the ball and make something happen, even down in the count.
“I’m just trying to get better, to be a factor, to contribute. It doesn’t matter how. I’m not trying to be anything specific. I’m just trying to do whatever it is — take an extra base, hit a ball in the gap — to help the team win.”
Adell also improved defensively, getting better jumps, taking better routes to balls toward the gap, down the line and over his head and mixing in an occasional diving catch.
“Outfield-wise, he’s under control, he knows where to go with the ball now,” Maddon said. “He’s made so many positive strides. Has he come along more offensively or defensively? That’s a good question. I think he’s come a long ways in both.”
When the 6-4, 215-pound Marsh, a second-round pick in 2016, was called up in July, he was dealing with the trauma of losing his father, Jake, who had died three months earlier after a long bout with cancer, and a close childhood friend, Jacob Cardiello, who died unexpectedly at 23 last June.
Marsh eventually caught up, rebounding from his first-month slump to hit .297 with a .761 OPS, two homers and 17 RBIs in his final 46 games to finish with a .254 average and .673 OPS.
“I had to start being a little more aggressive at the plate, not letting those get-me-over pitches just slide by me,” Marsh said. “Kind of understanding and realizing and telling myself that I’m supposed to be here.
“I don’t want to feel like I’m not supposed to be here, because then I’m already out. The game is already hard enough. You don’t want to make it any harder.”
Marsh had a sympathetic ear in Adell.
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“I picked his brain every day last year because he was up in 2020 and got his feet wet,” Marsh said. “It was good to have someone very close to me that already went through something I was about to go through. That definitely helped me.”
If Adell and Marsh take another step forward, it would add even more power and depth to a lineup that should have a potent middle-of-the-order quartet in reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani, Trout, third baseman Anthony Rendon and first baseman Jared Walsh.
“We just have to keep it simple, don’t try to be a Superman,” Marsh said. “We have a phenomenal lineup, top to bottom, and depth, guys who are going to make the big plays, so stick to yourself, play your role and do you.”
The environment is one Adell and Marsh should thrive in. Both will hit in the bottom half of the order. There is always pressure, but neither will have to carry the offense.
“We have guys in here who can really make things happen at a big-time level,” Adell said. “We have dude’s dudes on this team, so hopefully I can make something shake and be in the mix here.”
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