If you thought Preston Tucker was the only Atlanta Brave to start his season with the Braves, then go to another team only to return to the Braves later in the year, your thoughts are mistaken. Lane Adams, another outfield by trade, had the same circuitous journey with regard to Atlanta’s roster. Unlike Tucker, though, Adams was able to parlay small sample success and the collapse of Adam Duvall into a playoff roster spot.
Adams served very capably for the Braves in a reserve role last year, when he hit for a 108 wRC+ in 122 PAs to amass 0.7 fWAR. While that 108 wRC+ did come courtesy of xwOBA outperformance, it wasn’t particularly egregious: a .344 wOBA versus a .331 xwOBA is not a scintillatingly red flag or anything. That performance easily gave Adams a leg up for a roster spot come the 2018 season, and he made the Opening Day roster as a fifth outfielder, routinely appearing as a pinch-hitter over the first few weeks of the season and even drawing a start on April 14. Adams actually managed a 120 wRC+ in 21 PAs in that span, and for a guy who struck out in north of 30 percent of his plate appearances the previous season, managed a really odd 19% walk rate that matched his 19% strikeout rate.
But, roster crunches are indeed a thing, and said crunch made a victim of Adams, who was designated for assignment on April 19 to make room for Matt Wisler. He was eventually outrighted to Triple-A and elected free agency rather than accepting his assignment. A few weeks later, he was a member of the Chicago Cubs and playing for their Triple-A team in Iowa. But, that stint did not go well: in 98 PAs for the Iowa Cubs, Adams put up a 28 (not a typo) wRC+ with a strikeout rate of 32.7% against Pacific Coast League pitching. That arrangement lasted all of about five weeks before he was released, and two weeks later, there he was again, back with the same Gwinnett team that he had spent much of 2017 and refused to join earlier in the year. A move from the PCL to the International League did not help his numbers, except nominally. He wRC+ed just 38 in 101 PAs for the Stripers, and the strikeout rate grew even further, to 36.6%.
But, for general roster depth purposes, Adams’ contract was selected on September 1, and he appeared in 11 more games for the Braves over the season’s final month. Most of those were mostly pinch-run appearances as the Braves played musical chairs with their catching trio; Adams made 11 appearances but only drew 8 PAs during the entire month. Still, he made the most of his very limited opportunities, going 2-for-8 with a double and a homer (both of those coming in his one start) in September.
The real kicker here is that the Braves had few bench options going into the NL Division Series. The acquisition of Adam Duvall went from mildly intriguing at the time to trade was announced to a real-time rendition of Munch’s The Scream on a baseball field. Dansby Swanson’s balky wrist forced Charlie Culberson into a starting role, and just like that, Lane Adams was somehow thrust upon the postseason roster. He appeared in two NLDS games, striking out in one and getting hit by a pitch in the other. (Incidentally, his need as a pinch-runner never came up, which kind of goes to show that “pinch-runner” isn’t really a playoff roster role these days.)
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? He was supremely bad at Triple-A for two different franchises, but strung together 29 oddly-effective PAs across April and September. He’s now had about a fourth of a season’s worth of PAs for the Braves over the last two years, in which he’s amassed an above-average batting line, 1.0 fWAR, and a reasonable .335 xwOBA, all while being unremarkable-to-awful in the minors. Go figure.
Will Adams be on the roster next year? Seems fairly unlikely unless injuries strike. I’m guessing he could potentially get playing time somewhere (there are always some bad teams in MLB with PA opportunities), but that’s likely not going to be with the Braves, who didn’t even try to retain him in April, when they weren’t really functioning like a team particularly worried about its bench.
What is he going to do next year? Bench guy or fifth outfielder somewhere seems like a safe bet. Or maybe he’ll crater in Triple-A again.
Highlight of 2018: It’s weird to think about, but Lane Adams actually won a game, more or less by himself, for the Braves in 2018. He started during the “hangover game” after the Braves clinched the division against the Phillies, and proceeded to further their miseries and deal the Phightins a four-game sweep. Oh, and this came off of Aaron Nola, one of the better pitchers in baseball this year.
In his first plate appearance of the game, he mashed a ground-rule double with two outs and a man on third to score the game’s first run. Digging in during his next plate appearance, he ambushed a Nola pitch into the stands for a solo homer, capping the scoring.
So weird. Really awesome, but so weird.
Lowlight of 2018: It’s tempting to just say that his entire time in the minors was the real low-light, but here’s something else. On April 7, the Braves were playing a chilly game at Coors Field. Adams drew a pinch-hit walk and scored the Braves’ first run, but with the game tied and runners on second and third in the ninth, Adams came up and got overpowered by Wade Davis (after the Braves had collected a walk and two singles off of him) to end the inning. The Braves would lose that game in ten, thanks but no thanks to Arodys Vizcaino issuing the ridiculous game-ending outcome of a walkoff walk.