Hometown hero Adams adjusting to big stage

Massachusetts standout settling into pro career in Seattle system

Johnny Adams led Walpole, Massachusetts, to the Little League World Series and starred for Boston College. (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com)

By Marisa Ingemi / MiLB.com | July 11, 2018 12:00 PM

Growing up in New England, Johnny Adams succeeded at every level of amateur baseball. Now the infield prospect is working to place his name on the short list of position players from that region to make it to the Majors.

"What makes it difficult is the weather, and you don't have much access to the facilities," the native of Walpole, Massachusetts, said. "You can't really be outdoors. You don't have that advantage. It was a big obstacle growing up, but I wouldn't trade it for anything else."

The lack of year-round opportunities didn't stop Adams from becoming a local legend on the diamond, or from getting picked out of Boston College by Seattle in the 22nd round of last year's Draft. But in his first full season with Class A Clinton, Adams has been up-and-down at the plate.

Through 82 games, he's batted .233/.310/.367 with nine home runs and 13 doubles. He's put together six hitting streaks of more than four games -- hitting in 11 straight from May 4 to May 16 -- but has also endured a few cold stretches.

"It's been a learning experience," the 23-year-old shortstop said. "I'm starting to learn a lot about myself as a player and how to handle failure and how to ride out success. I'm growing as a player and a person, but I'm having a great time with the LumberKings so far. It's been really enjoyable.

"Putting in the work and soaking in as much information as I can, focusing on my strengths, has helped -- knowing who I am as a player and building off that every day."

Adams struggled offensively in his senior year, batting .211, but he'd already put together an impressive collegiate career. He was the first junior in BC history to don the school's prestigious No. 8 uniform, which he also wore in his final season. The number is given to a player in honor of Peter "Sonny" Nictakis, for battling adversity and representing the best qualities of BC baseball, according to the school.

"I could tell he was going to be one of the top-notch players to ever go through our program. From the time he was a freshman, I knew he'd go on to do something special."
-- Walpole High School baseball coach Bill Tompkins

In coming into the Division I program, he joined his father, Jay, who played for the Eagles 30 years prior.

"It was special to follow in my father's footsteps," he said. "I always wanted to go to BC because of his path. My dad paved the way for me. It was pretty cool because he also served as team captain."

Adams hit .284 as a junior and was the MVP of the super regionals, but by that point, starring on the national stage was nothing new for him. In 2007, he led Walpole to the Little League World Series for the first time in the town's history. As a teenager, he led the Walpole High School Rebels to two Bay State League titles and was a starter for all four seasons.

"After you coach him, you see why he's so successful," said Bill Tompkins, Adams' coach with the Rebels and longtime athletic director at Walpole High. "He's all about the team. He's all about baseball. He'll do anything to help the team. It's always great to see how he's doing, and it doesn't surprise me. Once you coach him, you see how important he is to the success of the team."

Adams brought the Rebels to the postseason in each year he played at Walpole and was a three-time First-Team Bay State League All-Star.

"I could tell he was going to be one of the top-notch players to ever go through our program," Tompkins said. "From the time he was a freshman, I knew he'd go on to do something special. Within an hour after he got drafted, he gave me a call and thanked me for the work we put in. It tells you about him. He's one of those kids you don't get a chance to coach very often.

"He's always been the one person in the lineup, since he was 12 years old through high school, that everyone gunned to get out. He's always had that pressure but has always accepted it and come through under pressure."

Adams faced more pressure during his last two college summers, playing with the Harwich Mariners, of all teams, in the elite Cape Cod League. His performance there -- he won the "10th Player Award" in 2015 and helped Harwich to the playoffs in 2016 -- may have helped him get his pro opportunity after his quiet final year at BC.

After accomplishing just about everything he could with teams in Massachusetts over his amateur career, Adams was drafted by an organization based across the country from the Commonwealth.

"It was a huge adjustment being away from home," Adams said of playing with the Everett, Washington-based AquaSox in the Class A Short Season Northwest League last year.

"It was my first time I was away in my whole life. But at the end of the day, it just came down to playing baseball and it doesn't really matter where you are. I tried to simplify things and remember it's just a game and I'm playing it somewhere a little farther away from home. I'm a homebody, but being away has been a unique experience."

He hit .316/.374/.445 in that first crack at pro ball. Since then, adjustments have been the name of the game. After starting 2018 on a hot streak in the Midwest League, Adams fell into an 0-for-31 hole in late May.

But, as the saying goes, hitters hit their way out of a slump.

Video: Clinton's Adams' single grabbed the lead with two RBI

"You never really know when it's going to happen. You're just hopeful you'll get out of the tough stretch," Adams said. "You can only focus on the positives day in and day out. For me, it was if I had a good game defensively, focusing on that. You have to find positives in the game, because you deal with a lot of failure. I think one single got me going, and I was able to gain some momentum off of that."

He broke out of the nine-game hitless run with a three-hit game at Cedar Rapids on May 26 and began to climb back.

"I'm just not trying to do too much at the plate," he said. "I've been working with the hitting coach, Jose Umbria, day in and day out, tweaking a few things and finding what's working and have been riding with that. He's helped me so far."MiLB include

His most recent hitting streak -- a six-game stretch from June 26-July 3 in which he batted .429 (9-for-21) with four homers -- started two days after Adams made an appearance as a pitcher for the first time since he was 13 years old.

"[Manager Denny Hocking] just came up to me and said we needed a guy to throw the last inning, so I jumped at the opportunity," he said. "I told him I could throw strikes and that's what I did when I got out there. It was fun."

He tossed a clean frame, throwing 12 of 18 pitches for strikes. That trip to the bump helped shake things up, which may have contributed to him catching fire soon thereafter.

"It was something new," he said. "It gave me a different perspective, but it was really cool to get out on the mound."

This season has been one of learning for the Massachusetts native, and like all baseball players, Adams knows he'll be making adjustments for as long as he's playing the game. But whether it be at the Class A level in the Midwest or, eventually, the Major Leagues in the Pacific Northwest, his roots in New England baseball keep Adams grounded.

"You have a sense of pride when you say you're from the Northeast," he said. "You come out and you're able to compete against the best players from around the country, anyway."

Marisa Ingemi is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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