This has been a sweet season for Royals’ prospect Jason Adam for many reasons, not the least of which is his perseverance.
Adam, a right-hander who attended Blue Valley Northwest High School, was listed as the Royals’ No. 8 prospect in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook.
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Then the season started.
In his first four starts, Adam allowed 27 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, an ugly 15.85 ERA. However, Adam was able to right the ship. His ERA by month: 12.84 in April, 3.09 in May, 2.97 in June, 7.52 in July (admittedly a blip) and 1.05 in August.
In August, Adam has allowed three earned runs on 18 hits in 25 2/3 innings. He has 26 strikeouts and five walks. One of the reasons for his resurgence is the addition of a slider to his arsenal of pitches.
Adam, a fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft out of Blue Valley Northwest, turned 22 on Aug. 4. He started his career in 2011 at Class A Kane County, where he was 6-9 with a 4.23 ERA in 104 1/3 innings. He was promoted to Class A-Advanced Wilmington last year and was 7-12 with a 3.53 ERA in 158 innings.
At Northwest Arkansas, he is 8-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 134 2/3 innings. He has 120 strikeouts and 50 walks.
I talked with Adam after his last start Wednesday. In that game, which the Naturals won 3-1 at Springfield, Adam gave up one unearned run on two hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out six, walked two and hit a batter. Of his 83 pitches, 51 were for strikes.
Just as important, it kept the Naturals in the thick of the playoff chase. Here’s our conversation:
QUESTION: The Naturals are in a playoff race and you’re pitching your best. How fun has this month big?
Answer: “It’s obviously been a ton more fun lately than it was at the beginning of the season for me. A big part of that is we’re in a playoff race. It takes personal pressure off you. You’re going out there trying to put your team in the best position to win. The bats are coming around ... so we’re having a ton of fun as a team. It’s a really great atmosphere right now.”
The start of the year must have been rough. Was there anything or anyone that helped you get through it?
“April was tough, mentally, because I’ve never struggled that bad, especially the start of the season. Jim Brower, our pitching coach, was a huge help for me. He kind of talked me down off the ledge a little bit. He really kept my confidence up. My first two starts, he said forget about those. My third and fourth starts, they weren’t good numbers-wise, but I made huge strides those two starts. He kept pounding into my head, ‘You’re fine, I’m so excited what I’m seeing.’ I was able to fix my stretch, so I’m quick to the plate now. After that, all I had to do was become more intentional with my pitches, so that I could really execute each and every pitch at the right time and place.”
How has it been as you’ve advanced up the Royals’ minor-league ladder?
“The jump between Kane County and Wilmington wasn’t much for me. They’re both A ball, it’s pretty similar. But the jump to Double-A was harder for me. The hitters are just much more disciplined at this level and as you go up, they’ll be more and more disciplined. At the lower levels, if my curveball was on, it didn’t matter where I threw it. They couldn’t hit it. Now at this level, I have to throw it in the right channel as opposed to just being able to throw it whenever I want. Better discipline, they see the ball better. But it just makes you a better pitcher, because they have more of an approach here, so you can kind of read hitters. So the mental side, it plays a bigger part as you go up.”
Was it difficult to ramp up your innings after high school?
“Honestly, it’s come pretty natural. My first year playing straight after high school in Kane County, I experienced some soreness, but then I really took to heart the shoulder program the Royals put out for us and conditioning for my arm and conditioning for my body, and put my body in the best chance I can to stay healthy. I’ve been very blessed to have a healthy arm these three years. It’s felt good. The innings, I don’t even think about them too much. I try to get as many as I can, because the quicker I get more innings, the quicker I think I can get to the big leagues.”
What are your pitches?
“I have a fastball, curveball, change-up and I just recently added in a slider that’s been a huge help for me. I really like that pitch.”
Is the slider the reason for success with Naturals?
“I think it’s been a huge help more me. Brower, we’ve been working on it and talking about it, and the way he showed me to throw it, just kind of came pretty naturally. He obviously had a great slider, so he’s a great guy to learn from. I’m not going to use it a lot, probably five to 10 times a game. But when I throw it, I just have so much confidence in it that it just makes it so much easier to pitch and it’s a fourth pitch to put in the hitters’ minds as well.”
When did you start working on it?
“I started working on it three or four weeks ago. It’s still pretty fresh. Brower taught it incredibly well.”
How difficult is it to have confidence to throw a pitch in a game that you’ve learned midseason?
“I’ve always had so much confidence in my curveball. When I was throwing it for Brower and Steve Foster, our pitching coordinator, Fossy was telling me that has potential to be better than your curveball. I was like, Wow. That obviously boosted my confidence with it. That first one in a game, I was like, ‘Well, here goes.’ I just threw it and got a strikeout on it, so I think that was huge that first-pitch success with it, because my confidence just sky-rocketed.”
Do you remember which game that was?
“It was Corpus Christi. It was against (designated hitter Domingo) Santana (on Aug. 8).”
Corpus Christi, Texas, is about a 14-hour bus ride from Springdale, Ark. How difficult are the bus rides in the minors?
“Obviously, it’s not the best part of playing minor-league baseball, but the Royals do take great care of us. They put us on good quality buses, so it’s not as bad as you’d think. It’s good fun times with your teammates. You’re with each other on that bus ride for 14 hours just joking around, laughing. It’s not as bad as you’d think ... but it’s not the best thing in the world either.”
Kyle Zimmer, the Royals’ first pick in last year’s draft was with the Naturals for a spell, and Brooks Pounders pitched a no-hitter. What have you picked up from your pitching teammates?
“Brooks Pounders is my roommate, so I’m really close with him. We room at home and on the road. He’s a great guy. He kind of helped me with the slider, too. I was talking to him, because he’s had that slider for his whole career. I’m new to it, so I was asking when is a good time to throw it, what’s good to follow up with? He’s had some great games this year, obviously threw a no-hitter, he’s a great pitcher. I enjoy watching all our guys. Zimmer when he was here, he’s another good friend of mine. He’s obviously got dominant stuff. He’s fun to watch.”
I’ve read that you pay close attention to pitcher strike percentage and off-speed percentage in your statistics. Why is that?
“I feel like every major-league starter can get their pitches in the zone very consistently. Obviously, part of pitching is pitching out of the zone, but a good majority of the time you want to be able to put your fastball in the zone -- at least 65 to 70 percent of the time; curveball 55-60 percent and off-speed, too. So if you’re in the zone that much, you’re going to be ahead of batters and then you can just play with them. If you’ve got three off-speed pitches, if they’re sitting on those, you can throw a fastball. It just makes pitching way more fun and easy when you’re ahead of guys.”
You graduated from Blue Valley Northwest High School. Do you keep in touch with friends from Kansas City?
“I had a big fan club from back home last night (Wednesday in Springfield). I had a few friends drive up, my parents drove up, my parents’ friends, my sister, her friend, my girlfriend was in town, some family friends. it’s nice because Springfield is so close and easy and so is Springdale.”
What are your plans when the season ends?
“I’ll take some time to let the body recover. I’m not sure whether they’ll have me go to the Fall League and get my innings up, because the way I started this year kind of put a dent in my innings. I did not get as many as I would like and as they would like. So they may have me continue to pitch some extra innings, so I can get a little more than I had last year.”