Kary Booher News-Leader
Get Matt Adams talking about his junior high and high school days back in Pennsylvania, and the Springfield Cardinals' slugger breaks into a grin.
Always one of the biggest kids in his class, he often had to shoo away football coaches that likely salivated at the thought of Adams as their quarterback's blind-side blocker or slobber-knocking pass rusher.
"And my best friend's dad was the wrestling coach," said Adams, who could have anchored the team's 215-pound weight class, "so he was always giving me a hard time about it."
Tonight, Adams plays in the Texas League All-Star Game in San Antonio as the North Division's starting first baseman, an honor that comes as he piques the interest of another set of evaluators.
However, that interest is not simply based on his 6-foot-3, 230-pound physique and membership drive into baseball's Big Bopper Club.
Clearly, Adams has athleticism, and while prep coaches saw it, those that coach and scout the minor leagues are seeing it now.
Long a catcher, Adams became a full-time first baseman in 2009, his last year in college.
Yet now one might hear scouts describe Adams as "adequate" and go so far as to emphasize that no team get the silly idea to "DH this kid."
Which is a stark contrast to a couple of years ago when initial scouting reports assumed Adams would better suited as a DH, or designated hitter.
But in short order, Adams is developing an interesting skill set at an interesting time, as St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, a Gold Glove first baseman, is months from becoming a free agent.
"Solid," was the way Springfield manager Pop Warner described Adams' defense. "He's not an over-weight, left-handed, fat guy, softball player out there. I guess people want to see the 6-3, 6-4 Adonis-looking guys over there but that's not him (either)."
Clearly, Adams already has established himself as one of St. Louis' notable draft-day finds, as he has earned a prospect tag after climbing out of NCAA Division II Slippery Rock (Pa.) and the 23rd round of the 2009 draft.
Adams leads the TL in average (.357), slugging percentage (.685) and is second in home runs (17).
In fact, Warner is unafraid to call him a future big-leaguer.
"He's just as good as anybody that's come through here at this stage. There's a lot to be said about that. You've had (Colby) Rasmus, (Jon) Jay, (Mark) Hamilton and (Allen) Craig," Warner said, noting past Springfield stars and current big-leaguers. "He's just as good as those guys."
Fortunately for baseball, which sometimes loses out to football and basketball on athletes such as Adams, the No. 1 sport back home in the Philipsburg-Osceola (Pa.) school district is baseball, according to Adams' high school coach, Doug Sankey.
Adams last played football in the seventh grade and last played basketball in his sophomore year.
"Looking back now, I wish I would have played (football)," Adams said. "But at the time, my heart was all in baseball. That's the way it still is now."
"I can remember Matt playing Little League, and thinking, 'Wow, I can't wait until I have this kid,'" Sankey said. "We brought Matt up to varsity as a freshman for the postseason. He delivered immediately with a game-winning hit. We made it that year to the district finals, and Matt DH'd for us. After that, he started three years as our catcher."
The district's athletic director, Lee Fisher, wrote in an email: "Our football coach is a nice young man who stands about 5-foot-8 (a little taller than Danny DeVito) and likes to be old-school and get in the kids face in the hallways.
"He wanted Matt to play football but he wasn't going to do his in-the-face challenge with Matt."
Adams moved to first base at Slippery Rock in 2009.
So far, his footwork is fairly good, as Adams reacts well to grounders hit to his left and charges in well on tappers in the grass.
Last month, for instance, he sprinted in on a softly popped-up bunt up the first-base line and made a sliding catch.
"I saw him in Batavia, and (his defense) was well below average," minor league field coordinator Mark DeJohn said, referring to Adams' first pro summer, 2009, in the short-season New York-Penn League.
"But you have to give him credit. This kid went home after that summer, got in shape and really improved," DeJohn said. "You know, you pull for everybody. But when they have a great attitude about it, you pull a little harder for them."
Adams acknowledges he still has much to learn on defense and that his footwork is the key. That is why he often jumps rope and takes a ton of grounders during batting practice.
But for all of his hard work, the road now leads to San Antonio, to the Texas League's summer showcase event.
"Being able to go to a Double-A all-star game, with some of the best prospects, it's just a great feeling," Adams said. "It's a great accomplishment. But there is still work to be done and improvements to be made."
(Copyright 2008 Gannett Co. Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)