Even though Spencer Adams expected family and friends to attend his outing against the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers on July 7 in Lawrenceville, the size of the turnout caught him quite off guard.
About 500-600 people from Cleveland and the surrounding area lined the stands at Coolray Field, he said, just to see their native son pitch for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights. Adams’ supporters, many of whom wore White County gear as a throwback to his prep days, were strong enough in number to give him a standing ovation when the Chicago White Sox prospect trotted to the mound for warmups.
“That’s when it hit me,” Adams recalled. “I said, ‘Dang, a lot of people are here for me.’ … It was kind of overwhelming.”
His nerves didn’t last long — and his supporters went home happy.
Adams tossed a seven-inning shutout and allowed just four hits in a 5-0 win against Gwinnett, yet another quality start since his June 10 call-up to the highest level of minor league baseball. In his first five starts for the Knights, Adams went 1-2 with a 2.97 ERA, pitching at least six innings in each appearance.
The 22-year-old said he’s playing the best baseball of his life right now, and he finally got to show those who watched him blossom into a star at White County just how good he can be.
“It was awesome to get to pitch in front of friends and family,” said Adams, a second-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2014. “I had been waiting to do this since I got drafted, waiting to play in Gwinnett in front of them.”
He got to enjoy their company even more during the Triple-A All-Star break, which ended last Wednesday. Adams spent the brief layoff relaxing in Cleveland before heading back to Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday morning to rejoin the team for its next series.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander returned to the mound last Friday against International League South leader Durham, which chased him after four innings with five runs on eight hits.
But that appears to be just a minor bump in the road for Adams, who had to wait awhile for his chance at Triple-A ball.
After graduating from White County in 2014, Adams quickly climbed the minor-league ladder, receiving a promotion to Double-A Birmingham in July 2016. But his rapid ascent suddenly stopped there as he spent nearly two years stuck on the Barons’ roster.
It’s not as if he wasn’t worthy of call-up. Adams was a dependable starter, posting 113 strikeouts to just 40 walks over 152⅔ innings for Birmingham in 2017.
The Cleveland native seemed headed for Charlotte as early as last June following an impressive complete-game shutout. Against Mobile, he permitted just three hits and struck out eight on only 96 pitches, 70 of which went for strikes.
But over the final three months of the season, his ERA rose by nearly a whole point to 4.42, and the call-up never came. Adams finished 2017 with a 7-15 record for a team that won just 38 percent of its games and finished with the worst record in the 10-team Southern League.
While still with Birmingham for the first two months of this season, Adams began to wonder if he’d ever see an inning of Triple-A ball.
“It’s something I thought about, but pretty much everybody at this level thinks about it at some point: ‘When am I going to get moved up?’” Adams said. “I knew that if I just put three or four good starts together in a row, then it would happen.”
Indeed, that was all it took.
Over a three-game stretch from May 31-June 10, Adams gave up just one earned run on 13 hits and struck out 15 batters over 21 innings. Following an efficient outing against the Tennessee Smokies, Barons coaches informed Adams that Charlotte had need of his services.
“That was a happy time,” Adams said with a laugh. “We’ve got a great place down in Birmingham, but everybody always wants to move up. When I finally got that call, ‘I said, Thank you, God. It’s about time I go and get a promotion.’”
The Knights are likely pleased with the decision, too, as Adams has rarely missed a beat. In his Triple-A debut June 16, the only damage he surrendered over seven innings came via two solo home runs.
Despite the myriad players with major-league experience populating Triple-A ball, Adams looks like he belongs on that level. He said his success with Charlotte is just a continuation of the final three-game stretch in Birmingham that got him there, which began when “something just clicked” for him.
Adams hopes he can keep rolling all the way to the majors, though he’s just trying to leave his mark with the Knights for now.
“I just try not to think about it,” he said. “If it happens, then it happens. If not, then I’m not too worried about it. I just try to control what I can control and focus on what I can do.”
Should Adams remain with Charlotte for the rest of the year, he’ll have another opportunity to put on a show for family and friends when the Knights conclude the season with a four-game series at Gwinnett from Aug. 31-Sept. 3.
Another large Cleveland contingent would likely make the trip to Lawrenceville again, especially if Adams can keep up his string of sterling performances.
But no matter how high he rises in Chicago’s organization, he’ll always find it a little unnerving to pitch with people he knows in attendance.
“I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know how many people would be there,” Adams said of the July 7 game at Gwinnett. “Usually when there’s a big crowd to watch your game, it doesn’t always go the best, so I was just glad to get out there and have a good outcome.”
If he produces many more of those, Adams may soon find himself donning a White Sox uniform in front of a much larger crowd.