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Jo Adell made some offseason tweaks to his setup and swing to quiet his lower half, flatten his bat path and optimize his lightning-quick hands, but what the Angels outfielder felt he needed most after his rocky rookie debut was an attitude adjustment.
“My goal is to bring my swagger back,” Adell said on a video call after Friday’s workout in Tempe, Ariz. “I didn’t have that last year. That was a missing piece of my game. Coming out with a pep on my step, dancing on the field … that’s the stuff I enjoy. That helps me play my game.”
There was plenty of pep in Adell’s voice, the 21-year-old clearly excited for the chance to put a shaky 2020 season in which he hit .161 (20 for 124) with three homers, seven RBIs, 55 strikeouts and seven walks in 38 games behind him.
Neither Joe Maddon’s December statement, when the manager said Adell “needs more time in the minor leagues, no question,” nor the team’s subsequent acquisition of veteran right fielder Dexter Fowler, which will likely push Adell to the bench or triple-A Salt Lake, could discourage him.
“I love this game, and I don’t care if I play in a sandlot,” Adell said. “I’m going out there competing, giving 110% every day, keeping the energy level high. I’m ready to go, and if that’s in Salt Lake, if it’s in Anaheim, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m here to bring it full force.”
If the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Adell sounds like a linebacker ready to demolish a ballcarrier, it might be because he trained like one this winter.
“I went back to trying to be the best athlete I can be,” Adell said. “I think when I came up last year, I didn’t let myself play as loose as I normally do. I think I played too reserved.
“So during the offseason I spent a lot of time outside in cleats doing football-type drills — cones, hurdles — to improve the quickness and agility needed to make reads in the outfield, steal bags, make turns on the bases. I said, ‘Hey, let me get myself feeling like I’m ready to play in the NFL,’ and it’s really helped me.”
Adell, the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft and the organization’s most heralded prospect since Mike Trout, had only 121 triple-A at-bats when he was called up to replace the struggling Justin Upton on Aug. 4, almost two weeks into the 60-game season.
In his fourth game, on Aug. 9, Adell struck out four times and was charged with a rare four-base error when he lost track of a drive to the warning track that bounced off his glove and over the wall in Texas.
Adell looked overmatched at the plate and uncomfortable and unsure of himself in the field. In 17 games through Aug. 28, he hit .175 (11 for 63) with 28 strikeouts. The game, as it often does for rookies, seemed to speed up on him.
“Normally, that phrase is applied to a young guy who has a bad game — he strikes out a few times, makes an error in a significant moment, and then all of a sudden you’re unable to slow your thought process down.” Maddon said.
“When things aren’t going well, you’re not breathing naturally, you’re not processing it well. The ball gets small, the ball gets quick, there’s 15 defenders out there on defense, the ball goes up, it’s always going to end up in the lights. It just happens. And that’s when your confidence goes into the toilet.”
Adell boasts dynamic athleticism and high-end power, which he flashed in an Aug. 29 game in Angel Stadium, when he crushed a 437-foot homer to left field and a 107-mph laser over the right-field wall in a 16-3 win over Seattle.
Adell’s defense improved in September — he got better jumps and took cleaner routes into the gap and robbed George Springer of a homer on Sept. 5 — but his offense did not. Adell hit .143 (seven for 49) with one homer, three RBIs, 20 strikeouts and three walks in 18 September games.
“Going up and having immediate success would have been great, absolutely,” Adell said. “But this was the best thing for me, to have that type of struggle, to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, you know what Jo? You’ve got some stuff you have to figure out.’ For me, man, it just lit the fire under my butt.”
Was Adell ready for the big leagues last season? Was he not ready? Adell clicked the moot button for his response.
“I was gonna have struggles regardless,” he said. “You don’t know until you’re thrown into the fire, but at the end of the day, it was good for me to get out there and face that type of adversity. That made me a better person, a better player.
“If I had to do it over again, I would go out there and fail again, because every single time I’d bounce back and say, ‘I’m not gonna let this happen again.’ ”
Mickey Callaway update
The league's investigation of Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway is "ongoing," with no timetable for resolution, according to a person familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly.
The Angels suspended Callaway on Feb. 2, the day after the Athletic reported that five women in sports media accused him of sexual harassment. Callaway denied the allegations.
Bullpen coach Matt Wise, named interim pitching coach, tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend and remains out of camp because of league health and safety protocols.
The Angels signed veteran right-hander Jesse Chavez, 37, to a minor league deal with a spring training invite. The Fontana native has pitched for nine teams in 13 years and spent 2017 with the Angels, going 7-11 with a 5.35 ERA in 38 games, 21 of them starts. … The Angels have agreed to terms with 17-year-old Cuban catcher Edgar Quero on a $200,000 signing bonus, pending a physical. The switch-hitting Quero played for Cuba’s Under-15 World Cup team in 2018 and left the country in 2019.
Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.