Ever since he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 23rd round of the 2009 draft out of Slippery Rock University, first baseman Matt Adams has had to face a number of doubters who didn't view him as a future Major League prospect.
Despite leaving Division-II Slippery Rock with the highest career average (.453) and slugging percentage (.746) in the university's history, many scouts didn't believe that Adam's competition was a good enough barometer to predict future success, passing on him in favor of more tested players from the Division-I ranks.
"Slippery Rock is not a big D-1 school where we play (against) a ton of other guys that are going to be drafted," explained Adams. "It's kind of made me play with a chip on my shoulder to prove all the scouts wrong that said I can't play with the best prospects in professional baseball."
In his first full-season in 2010, Adams began to prove scouts wrong when in 121 games he hit .310 with 41 doubles, 22 home runs, 88 RBIs and 71 runs scored with the Class-A Quad Cities River Bandits. Among all Cardinals minor leaguers, his average was the third-best, he had the highest slugging percentage (.541), the most doubles, the second-most hits (144) and was tied for second in home runs and RBIs. However, Baseball America still did not rank Adams in the list of St. Louis' top-30 prospects entering the 2011 season.
Prior to the start of this season, another set of doubters entered the picture when local media in Springfield questioned whether the Cards' 2011 offense would be potent enough with only two top-30 prospects, catcher Steven Hill, who has since moved on to AAA Memphis, and shortstop Ryan Jackson, on the offensive side of the ball.
However, with the help of Adams, such thoughts have since been erased, as Springfield is leading the Texas League with a .281 average, 154 home runs, .798 OPS, .450 slugging percentage, 1,228 hits and 1,963 total bases (as of August 23).
"It feels great because we've good a good club," Adams said. "Everybody, one through nine, in the order can flat-out hit. Even the utility guys we have coming off the bench are almost all hitting around .300."
The 6' 3", 230 pound Adams has been leading the offensive charge in Springfield, hitting .312 with 30 home runs, 22 doubles, 94 RBIs and 73 runs scored, despite missing 19 games in June due to an oblique injury.
While most big-bodied mashers have the power stroke and not the average, Matt has managed to balance the two, thanks to an approach he picked up from family friend and former minor leaguer Justin Hazelton.
"I use a gap-to-gap approach that allows me to keep on the ball even when the pitchers throw off-speed pitches," Adams stated. "I also have a quiet swing with not a lot of movement to it that helps eliminate holes in my swing."
Matt's impressive offensive numbers not only put him within reach of several single-season Springfield hitting records, but also earned him a chance to play in the 75th Texas League All-Star Game earlier this season in San Antonio. While Adams had to drop out of the pre-game home run derby after returning from his oblique injury just prior to the All-Star Game, it didn't stop him from mashing a monstrous homer over the right field scoreboard during the game.
"It was definitely a special moment for me because I had my dad in the stands," Adams said. "To hit that ball and cross the plate and look up to him in the stands and see him smiling and cheering is something that I'll never forget."
While the home run was a big moment for him, it wasn't the only thing that Adams took away with him from the All-Star experience.
"I was just honored to be able to play with and against some of the best prospects in baseball," he said. "I think it made a lot of us better being able to face top guys like that."
With the numbers that Adams has put up this season against highly-regarded competition and the contract of St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols expiring at the end of the year, it's possible that Matt may enter next spring in a competition for that spot. Adams, however, has bittersweet thoughts about such an idea.
"It's definitely a goal to reach the Majors as quick as possible, but I don't wish for Albert to be gone," he explained. "I met him in Spring Training this year and he is a great guy and a wonderful player. He helps the Cardinals chances of winning and that's really what's most important. I hope he comes back, but I can't let things I can't control like that affect how I go about my own business."
One way or another, Adams is on an upward path to the big leagues and, so far, proving all his doubters wrong along the way.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.