The St. Louis Cardinals’ playoff hunt took a huge hit with the loss of veteran first baseman Lance Berkman to a possible torn ACL. The injury could end his 2012 season – and possibly his career. Most clubs would be left scrambling for a veteran trade replacement – especially after also losing a perennial all-star like Albert Pujols in the off-season – but the Cardinals have one of the Top 3 first base prospects in the game.
Along with the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Houston’s Jonathan Singleton, triple-A first baseman Matt Adams has the potential to be an impact bat at the big league level. Prior to the season I ranked Adams as the organization’s eighth-best prospect in the system but left him off the Top 100 prospects list.
A left-handed hitter, the Cardinals’ prospect was hitting .340 with nine home runs in 37 triple-A games at the time of his promotion. His power output at triple-A (.262 ISO) may have been aided a bit by playing in the potent Pacific Coast League but he’s hit for power throughout his four-year pro career – dipping below .200 ISO rate only once. His wRC+ rate has never been below 137 (league average being 100). During his breakout season in 2011, Adams posted a wOBA rate of .391 at double-A with an ISO rate of .266 (32 homers). He has a very simple, repeatable swing that should continue to provide both average-to-above-average power and a solid batting average.
Adams, 23, had a solid strikeout rate for a power hitter at 17.8 K% but his walk rate was just 5.9 BB%. Along with an impatient approach at the plate Adams struggles against left-handed pitching. This year he was hitting just .237 against southpaws, compared to .379 versus righties. At 6’3” 230 lbs he’s not overly athletic and will likely never be more than average at first base – although he has good hands and a strong arm (He was a college catcher).
A 2009 23rd round draft pick out of Slippery Rock University (NCAA division II), Adams was signed for just $25,000 and has exceeded expectations at each step of the way. His game definitely has some holes in it and first base carries huge offensive expectations but the Pennsylvania native has shown the ability to hit for both power and average. He likely won’t be an immediate middle-of-the-order threat but his contribution should be above replacement level even with limited defensive abilities.