Jo Adell and Luis Robert came from very different backgrounds. Adell was a high school phenom from Kentucky, drafted 10th overall by the Angels, in the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft. Robert, on the other hand, defected from Cuba in late 2016 in order to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball. He was signed by the White Sox in May of 2017.
However, since that summer just two years ago, both players have been on very similar, very aggressive, trajectories in their professional careers. They are currently ranked in the top 3 prospects of their respective organizations, according to Prospects1500. Both players have battled some minor injuries. Both players have flashed five-tool talent, overcoming perceived weaknesses, like Robert’s power (21 HR and 1.038 OPS across three levels in 2019) and Adell’s hit tool (.305 AVG across two levels in 2019). Both players have rocketed up through five levels of the minors to arrive in AA, at the same time, in the same Southern League. Furthermore, each player plays CF and bats lead-off for their respective ball clubs, the Birmingham Barons (Robert) and the Mobile BayBears (Adell). This collision course of events brings us to Regions Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Now, to be fair, the two teams played a series in Mobile just a couple weeks before but due to rain-outs, I was unable to attend any of those games.
OK, let’s talk about the series in Birmingham. When reading this, keep in mind the small sample size. The series was scheduled for five games but Adell only played in three and Robert took a game off as well.
If not for the other-worldly talent that is Wander Franco, Adell would probably be considered the top position prospect in baseball. This was my first chance to see him live and I can certainly see what all the fuss is about. The guy is an absolute specimen when it comes to size, speed, etc etc. Adell plays a good CF and I think he could definitely play there in the majors and be just fine. However, I’m not sure I would want to be the team that plays him there instead of, you know, the best player on the planet! It is for this reason I think Adell winds up in a corner at the big league level. At the plate, Adell didn’t have a great series. I guess it speaks somewhat to my lofty expectations when I can say that even after a guy hits .333 in a series, so let me explain. While he did have four hits in the three games he played, nothing was really barreled and he wasn’t able to pull anything for any power. One of his hits was lined pretty hard over second for a single but mostly he didn’t get the ball off the ground. Adell did suffer two separate lower body(ankle and hamstring) at the same time this spring and he’s only been back from the IL a little over a month, so maybe that has something to do with his power being down some, but I wouldn’t worry at all. It’s easy to see why Adell typically grades out at 65-70 speed. When he was on the basepaths, pitchers have to focus on him and fielders have to rush throws or he will beat out infield hits and he will steal bases. In three games, Adell went 4-12 at the plate. He had one walk, one RBI, and struck out 3 times.
I’ve written about Robert several times and it’s no secret that he is a favorite of mine. Coming into 2019, one of the questions was whether or not Robert could stay healthy for a full season. Well, so far so good in 2019 and Robert has been lighting up the Southern league. He came into this series, fresh off a MVP winning performance in the 2019 Southern League All-Star game. Against Mobile, Robert did not disappoint either. He simply didn’t make any mistakes in the field. He has good range, speed, arm, and takes good routes to the ball. On the base paths, Robert displays good instincts and is a constant threat to steal. The most impressive thing about him in this series was the loud contact he was making. He had several balls that had over 100 mph exit velocity! He still needs to work on recognizing off speed stuff. I think if he can continue to work on plate discipline, launch angle, etc. etc. he could be a 30/30 type player. Fans on the south side of Chicago should be excited as Robert will be in CF for the pale hose soon. For the series, Robert was 6 for 15 at the plate with 4 runs, 1 RBI, 2 steals, 2 BBs, and he struck out 5 times.
The Barons won the series 4-1 and I guess you could say Robert won this “Clash of the Titans” between the prospects. However, I think the real winners were the fans that got to see these two phenoms, both on the rise, and both destined to continue on their parallel paths to successful careers in baseball.