Angels’ Jo Adell hopes his everyday role is only beginning – Los Angeles Times

Jo Adell isn’t sure when he’ll next be in the Angels lineup.

He’d love to play again before the end of this season, to return from a left abdominal strain that landed him on the injured list last week after he collided with an outfield wall trying to make a leaping catch.

“[There’s] a lot of soreness,” Adell said, noting that even laughing or sneezing caused him pain. “But things are starting to feel better. I’m starting to work on the right stuff. So hopefully, it’ll clear up.”

On Monday, however, manager Joe Maddon said it’s still unlikely Adell will come back in time, especially with the season finale less than two weeks away.

“We’re running out of time obviously, and if you had to bet, you’d bet that he’s not [going to return],” Maddon said. “But if he feels well enough to get out there, I’m into it.”

Even if Adell’s 2021 campaign season is indeed over, his emergence this year will raise an interesting question leading into next year.

When opening day rolls around in March, will Adell have a spot in the lineup as an everyday player?

After well-documented struggles in his 2020 rookie season, after all, Adell returned to the majors this August and showed improvement in almost all parts of his game while filling in amid the team’s rash of injuries.

His batting average shot up from .161 to .246, to go along with four home runs and 26 RBIs. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage made similar gains, from .478 to .703. He also cut his strikeout rate almost in half, stole the first two bases of his MLB career, and was markedly better defensively, committing no errors in more than 300 innings in left and right field combined.

“I think I’m most proud of the way I approached the game,” Adell said. “When I came back, I got into more of a [mindset of], ‘Go win a game. Be a factor. Find a way to make something happen at any opportunity.’ The change in mindset to that really elevated my play. I started to show parts of my game that not a lot of people knew about beforehand.”

Adell is hoping he can continue to showcase it as an everyday big-league player next year, too. As the 22-year-old looks ahead to his third MLB season, he believes he could be ready to handle a starting role in the Angels outfield.

“Absolutely,” Adell said. “There’s no question about it. I worked my butt off every single day for the opportunity to be able to do that.”

As things stand now, the Angels will have plenty of competition in the outfield in 2022.

Mike Trout and Justin Upton are the only veteran outfielders under contract next season. And only Trout seems like an everyday lock, with Maddon saying on Monday that Adell and fellow youngster Brandon Marsh “would be in the mix” with Upton for playing time.

“You have to decide how ready you think [the younger guys] are in order to really carry you where you want to be,” Maddon said.

And even over the course of only 35 games this year, Adell began to show the kind of growth that could put him in serious consideration.

Adell was pleased with more than just improved numbers. He felt his process was better too, from his pre-game prep work studying opposing pitchers to his ability to navigate at-bats throughout a game.

He boiled it down to a simple idea: “Understanding what you can handle at the plate.”

“There’s some offspeed pitches from some guys I faced this year that I knew, ‘It’s gonna be tough to hit that. Get yourself a fastball,’” Adell said, adding: “Even if you’re wrong, at least you game-planned for it. I think I’ve done a better job of understanding what I’m gonna get out of every guy that I’m facing, and I think that’s led to the success.”

In one of his final games before getting hurt, Adell produced one of the best examples of his progress.

During the Angels’ Sept. 7 win against the San Diego Padres, Maddon said Adell was among the only Angels hitters to lay off curveballs from Padres starter Blake Snell, who had a perfect game through six innings.

By the time Adell came up for his third at-bat of the night in the seventh, Snell abandoned the curveball, instead trying to attack him with fastballs and sliders — ultimately leading to an over-the-plate mistake that Adell hammered up the middle for a go-ahead two-run single.

“He had the best at-bats all night,” Maddon said after the game, making the kind of evaluation rarely associated with Adell’s performance last season.

The former first-round pick still isn’t guaranteed of anything. Despite his offensive gains, his OPS+, an all-encompassing stat in which 100 is considered league-average, was just 90. His strikeout to walk ratio was still 32-to-eight. And his defense, while more dependable, still needs to be replicated over the course of an entire season.

But as he heads into the winter, Adell has tangible big-league building blocks under his belt too — such as the game against Snell, or the game-winning grand slam he hit in late August against the Detroit Tigers, or any of the other small moments he hopes to parlay into a permanent role as an everyday starter.

“Whether I’m able to come back [this season] or not, I’m glad I was able to put my foot down, in a way,” Adell said. “Let my play, my energy level speak out here.”