Matt Adams: 6 Tips to Become A Great First Baseman

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by: David Driver

Matt Adams of the St. Louis Cardinals is the exception to the rule in many ways.

A former catcher in high school, Adams has shown that a big man can be agile enough to play first base at the Major League level. The Pennsylvania native is also a shining example of the Cardinals scouting and player development operation as one of the few products of a Division II college in the major leagues.

The left-handed slugger was a standout at Slippery Rock in college and remembers have a discussion with Brian Hopkins, a scout for the Cardinals. “He said I played the game the right way,” said Adams, who was drafted in the 23rd round in 2009 by St. Louis.

Adams was a Division II All-American in 2009 (first team), 2008 (second team) and 2007 (third team). He set several records at Slippery Rock, including a .495 average as a junior and he also had 91 hits, with 14 homers and 64 RBIs. While in college he played for the Pittsfield Dukes of the New England Collegiate Baseball League in the summer of 2008 and he was the league MVP.

“The thing I wanted to take out of it was to get drafted and that was step one,” Adams said. “I wanted to work and get better. I did well in the minors and was able to make my debut last year.”

Adams worked his way up the minor league ladder and made his debut with the Cardinals in 2012, when he played in 27 games and hit .244 with two homers and 13 RBIs while also hitting well at Triple-A. What was the highlight of making The Show?

“Just getting the call when I was in Las Vegas at Triple A (while with Memphis)," Adams said. "They told me I was going to Los Angeles to meet the Major League team. That was just great."

It was fitting that he faced since the Dodgers, since he saw them play in the first big league game he attended in person at the age of 3 or 4 in Pittsburgh.

"He has nothing else to prove [in the Minor Leagues]," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny told mlb.com during spring training in 2013. "The guy can hit. It's just a matter of whether he fits in right. It's not a question of whether he can perform at this level. He can hit here or anywhere else. He doesn't really need to show us more."

Adams hit .284 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs in 2013 with the Cardinals. The next season with St. Louis he hit .288 with 15 homers and 68 RBIs in 142 games with St. Louis. Adams missed much of 2015 with an injury, but hit .240 with five homers in 60 games with the Cards. Going into the 2016 season he had played in 26 postseason games, with four homers. He saw action in the 2013 World Series with the Cardinals as they lost in six games to the Boston Red Sox.

Adams played in high school at Philipsburg-Osceola for Doug Sankey, a former catcher under coach Jeff Messer at Slippery Rock. Adams was a catcher in high school and played there three years in college but also got some time at first base, which Messer figured would be his best pro position.

“For a big guy he has quick feet and good hands,” Messer said. “I liked him right from the get go. The ball came off his bat a little different” than most.

Adams recently shared some tips about playing first base with Junior Baseball readers:

MA’S 6 TIPS TO BECOME A GREAT FIRST BASEMAN

1. On a groundball to another infielder a first baseman needs to get to the bag and get settled. “For me it is trying to stretch out as far as I can. The longer the hop the more time the ball has to do funny things. I have been told to get to first base as fast as you can and get settled,” Adams said/

2. On a bunt or slower roller between the first baseman and the pitcher, communication is very important between the two of them. “If the pitcher doesn’t say anything I know I have to go get it,” he said. “He runs over and toward the base. It is kind of like a give and go. It is all about knowing the speed of the runner.”

3. A pop up may seem like an easy play but it can be even more challenging if it is in foul territory. “The biggest thing is to try and think about where the ball comes down. See the ball at its highest point and get a read on it. Call off whomever is around you. Be aware of your surroundings,” Adams said.

4. A first baseman serves as a relay man at times on throws from the right fielder – and sometimes the center fielder – on throws from the outfield to the catcher. “I line myself help with the catcher and he will let me know whether I should move left or right. It is all about being in a good spot and taking a throw from the relay guy,” he said.

5. Adams lets the shortstop or other infielders be the one to visit the mound to give encouraging words to the pitcher. “Unless it is a left-handed hitter, I may want to see what they are going to throw. That is not my spot to go there,” he said.

6. On a grounder to first and a possible double play Adams said it is important for the first baseman to make a good throw. “You want to make a strong, accurate throw to the shortstop or maybe the second baseman if there is a shift. Throw the ball nice and make a strong accurate throw. If you can’t get back to first the pitcher should be there,” he said.