Dash's Adolfo makes the most of limits

Studious No. 10 White Sox prospect nearing return to outfield

Micker Adolfo has put together a .287/.371/.466 slash line for 2018, all career highs. (Chris Robertson/MiLB.com)

By Nathan Brown / MiLB.com | July 5, 2018 10:00 AM

To signal the start of hard work ahead of the 2017 campaign, the Chicago White Sox gave players across each level an empty notebook. Using the notebooks wasn't mandatory, and Micker Adolfo doesn't remember getting much guidance on how best to utilize his.

But the 10th-ranked White Sox prospect jumped at the opportunity to learn more about himself and his game.

"We don't get as much information as the big leaguers do, so we have to make the best out of the opportunities handed to us," he said. "That book was a great opportunity to improve. Before, I never really thought about anything studying-wise, but when you move up, pitching gets better, and you have to have some sort of resource."

In 2018, that resource became Adolfo's diary, textbook and road map through a tough time all in one. Recently given a clean bill of health, the outfielder has only been able to play one side of the game so far this year.

Adolfo suffered a small tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his right elbow and a tear of the flexor muscle in the same arm in February. At the outset, the diagnosis was complex. His batting motion didn't agitate his ailing elbow, but in order to regain his throwing motion in his 70-grade arm, he needed rest -- and possibly surgery.

Rather than sentence the 21-year-old to months of inactivity or rush him into an operation that would cost him the entirety of 2018 and maybe part of 2019, the White Sox elected to bump Adolfo up to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem, use him only as a designated hitter and reevaluate him in June.

"We felt he'd be able to get ample time this season with at-bats to build off last year, and we'd still be able to go into the following year feeling solid about his amount of at-bats," Chicago director of player development Chris Getz said.

As Adolfo first blended playing baseball with a scholarly study of it last year, his second full professional season blossomed into a breakout. After a mix of injuries and frustrations limited him to a .221 batting average, six home runs and 23 RBIs over 69 games in 2016, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder averaged .264 with 16 dingers and 68 RBIs for Class A Kannapolis with his notebook at his side in 2017.

"He started realizing what his potential was," Getz said. "He's a big, strong kid, and he started to use the whole field. His mechanics were aligning, and he was putting together professional at-bats.

"Earlier in his career, he was trying to pull the ball for power. He started to realize he didn't need to try as much because he was so gifted."

"I became a student of hitting. It was the only thing I could focus on. This is a great opportunity for me to get better as a hitter, both mentally and physically. I was positive I could get the job done as a hitter, and I think I have."
-- Micker Adolfo, Winston-Salem Dash

That fantastic season was why the injury news was so tough for Adolfo. While throwing long toss a week before he reported to Glendale, Arizona, for Spring Training, he felt a stretch in his throwing elbow. He kept throwing some, thinking the pain was just soreness, but it lingered. Eventually, he mentioned it to the training staff. Soon after, an MRI revealed the bad news.

"Mentally, it was just like, 'Man, another injury, another setback. I can't catch a break,'" Adolfo said. "There was a chance I was only going to play one or two months [before being shut down or having surgery], but I realized I'd have to take advantage of the time I was given and start to try and make the best of it."

Luckily, Adolfo had two professional baseball minds in his corner. His father, Carlos Adolfo, played six seasons as an outfielder in the Montreal Expos system and logged six more years in independent leagues. His new manager, Omar Vizquel, played 24 seasons with six clubs. They each told him in separate conversations that this setback was no longer in his control. His attitude and how he approached his time at the plate was.

"No one wants to be injured, but my dad said to just stay on top of things and control what I could control, which was the task given to me," he said. "Omar told me not to get lazy.

"So I came into this season with a chip on my shoulder. I became a student of hitting. It was the only thing I could focus on. This is a great opportunity for me to get better as a hitter, both mentally and physically. I was positive I could get the job done as a hitter, and I think I have."

Adolfo batted .395 with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs over the first 11 games of the season to be named the first Carolina League Player of the Week. He carried that success far enough to also earn the league's first Player of the Month award, finishing April with a .319 average, a .574 slugging percentage, five homers and 22 RBIs in 24 games.

Video: Adolfo clubs three-run shot for Winston-Salem

But it was not just the results that caught the eye of first-time manager Vizquel, who because of Adolfo's injury, had yet to see the prospect at full strength.

"Guys don't like to play when they're hurt. Some say it takes away from their game, but he comes in every day ready to hit the ball and produce," Vizquel said. "Not many guys like to do that kind of stuff, play halfway. A lot would rather go on the DL and wait until they're 100 percent.

"Not him. He'll even have some small injuries, like his leg being tight or his fingers being swollen, and he still wants to play. ... He's not going to tell you he's hurt. He already feels bad because he can't be out on the field. You have to read his body, because he's doing something he's not used to. Being a DH isn't easy, but he's working a lot in the cage and getting along real good."

The uniqueness of Adolfo's situation has allowed him to get limited practice in the outfield, power shagging and working on his routes running down fly balls, but being a one-way player has allowed him to devote his spare time, energy and attention to his approach at the plate. That's where the notebook comes in.

Last year, he benefited from jotting down anything he could remember about his plate appearances after games. Some of the finer details, though, got lost in the time he spent chasing down line drives and firing darts to home plate. Now, Adolfo has nine half-innings of free time to empty his mind onto pen and paper, recording everything he observes in his at-bats.

"It's things that when I'm playing defense I can't think about as much," he said. "Now when I'm hitting, I'm better at picking up sequences they pitch to teammates in order to get to me. I write down every pitcher and how they pitch to me.

"I'll note the runners on base, whether they're attacking me with the fastball at the get-go or going soft and then coming, what the sequence is."

Micker Adolfo is in the midst of his best season at the plate. (Clinton Cole/FutureSox)

Adolfo has supplemented his notebook studies with ample video review, which his manager believes has quickened his development and opened his mind to the level of preparation he'll need down the road.

"He's very thoughtful and very expressive about the way he goes through work every day," Vizquel said. "He's watching a lot of different things, because he has that time and is discussing his struggles and how to work through slumps. He's learning a different part of the game and taking advantage of the time, and that'll be great for his future."

Entering Wednesday's game against Down East, Adolfo has compiled a .287/.371/.466 slash line, which puts him on pace for career highs in all three categories. He's also knocked 29 extra-base hits, including 10 homers, and tallied 48 RBIs in 75 games.

That progress could have come to a screeching halt when he revisited team doctors, who administered another MRI in early June. To Adolfo's excitement and the organization's relief, the images revealed a healthy elbow. A combination of resistance band work, stretching and rest healed Adolfo, and now he's working through a throwing program that Getz hopes has him back on the grass in mid-July.

"There was a silver lining to all this, that he wasn't able to throw but got some work in through his at-bats and some practice in the field," Getz said. "We want to make him a well-rounded player as quickly as possible, but offensively it was more important than his defense. I have full faith that he's a solid outfielder."

Adolfo is aware that his time and attention are going to be pulled in two different directions again when he returns to the outfield. He'll have to start retraining his mind to track balls in the air and fine-tune his arm for big-time throws.

"And I won't be thinking about writing things down when I have to head out onto the field," he said.

But Vizquel believes Adolfo's new offensive knowledge has only deepened his understanding of the game on the whole, and the skipper is eager to see him don a glove.

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"Everybody talks about how good an arm and an outfielder he is, and I want to see that part of his game," Vizquel said. "I know he'll be a better player when he's playing on the field. You just see things differently and you prepare differently. This has been a learning year for him.

"He's going to be one of the best hitters in the game. He looks like a complete athlete, but time will tell just how good he is on the field."

Nathan Brown is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @NathanBrownNYC. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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