Prospects were placed on this Earth to simultaneously excite and frustrate baseball fans.
When the Yankees drafted Chance Adams in the fifth round out of Dallas Baptist back in 2015, it wasn't with much fanfare. He made 23 appearances for Dallas Baptist that season, all of which were out of the bullpen. The numbers were strong (1.98 ERA, 12.7 K/9) and he showed enough talent to earn a $330,000 signing bonus. However, nobody saw him as a kid who would someday enter the debate as the top prospect in the system. Nobody saw him as a Top 100 prospect in baseball. He was a relief prospect with success in college. If anything, one may have been intrigued because the Yankees do fairly well with college relief pitchers.
The Yankees had different plans for Adams, however – and those plans involved trying to convert him into a starter. The Yankees had done this before (Dietrich Enns was primarily a relief pitcher for Central Michigan when the Yankees drafted him in 2012. By 2015, he was primarily a starter), but Adams seemed to carry even more prospect value to the Yankees. Enns was a soft-tossing type guy who was likely to fly through the system because minor league hitters sometimes struggle against slop guys. Adams had potential as a power pitcher.
It worked. Adams was insanely good as a starter from the get-go, going 13-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 2016, a season that saw him go through Tampa and Trenton. If one was following closely, they may have noticed a few trends in the wrong direction after his promotion that season: His K rate went from 32% to 26.6% while his FIP rose from 2.51 with Tampa to 3.33 with Trenton. This isn't surprising as it was his first full season as a starter and moving up to Double-A is always a major test for any prospect. He fared well in Trenton when you factor everything in.
It was 2017 when Adams' prospect stock leaped forward. While pitching for Trenton (where he put up an absurd 1.03 ERA in 35 innings) and Scranton, Adams compiled a 15-5 record, 2.45 ERA, and 135 strikeouts in 150.1 innings. As you can see by that stat line, his strikeout rate again went down while his walk rate zoomed up to 3.5/9 IP. This was enough of a performance to move Adams onto Top 100 prospect lists entering 2018. He was ranked as high as #51 (Baseball Prospectus). He was a legitimate MLB pitching prospect and with that comes the question everyone should always ask themselves when evaluating talent: Was Chance Adams at peak value? There may be a few conflicting reports about how much of a role Chance Adams played in the Yankees not acquiring Gerrit Cole after that 2017 campaign. Was it Adams that held up that trade? Was it Miguel Andujar? I have always thought it was the latter, but it doesn't matter: The fact that Adams was even being mentioned in trade rumors for top talent was huge. The Yankees had converted a college reliever into a bonafide MLB pitching prospect. It was a win for player development.
Until it wasn't. Adams needed to get bone spurs removed from his elbow before 2018, a procedure that isn't normally considered major. However, Adams' performance took a massive hit in his first season as a top prospect. He threw to a disappointing 4.78 ERA for Scranton that season, allowing 58 walks in 113 innings. His strikeout rate bumped up a tad (9.0), but he was nothing close to the pitcher everyone was expecting to see. His velocity was down and the Yankees found themselves in recovery mode. He famously made his MLB debut that year in Boston, where he was trying to give the struggling Yankees a boost. He didn't pitch terribly (5 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 2 K), but anyone who watched that game would tell you that he did not look like the big prospect that was being described just one year earlier. He has not started an MLB game since.
Despite his struggles, the Yankees decided to hang onto him after the 2019 season, keeping him on the 40-man roster instead of replacing him with a prospect that was Rule 5 eligible. As it turned out, the Yankees only lost one prospect in that draft, though Rony Garcia was the first overall pick. As we know, if the Yankees keep Garcia over Adams, they would have needed to make a separate roster move for Cole, so who knows how that would have worked out.
Nobody should try to sugarcoat it: Adams went from a massive organizational success to a massive failure in a year. This happens to prospects often. This year's breakthrough is always next year's disappointment. It is how it works – it is why there doesn't exist a guarantee. We all love to follow prospects. We all get nervous when our favorite team trades a top prospect. However, the vast majority simply never make a huge dent in the big leagues. It is a part of what makes the game so wonderful (some of the best players in the world aren't good enough to play at the highest level!) and frustrating at the same time.
The Yankees could have received value for Adams after 2017. They took the risk that they had a legitimate rotation piece on their hands and decided against using him as trade bait (as far as we know). That was the wrong decision for an organization that has been as accurate as anyone when it comes to assessing their minor league talent for the last several years. No team is 100% accurate, however.
As for what the Yankees finally received for Adams, it isn't much on the surface. Cristian Perez is a 21-year old infielder who has played mostly shortstop in his years with the Kansas City Royals. He brings a .263/.312/.319 career triple slash with him. This past season, while playing for the Royals' High-A affiliate, he hit .252/.290/.285 with a 4.7% walk rate and an 11.3% strikeout rate over 424 plate appearances. In 2019, he earned himself a "special mention" on the Fangraphs' Kansas City Royals prospect article with notes about how he was an instinctive fielder with some feel to hit. You usually associate lottery tickets with pitchers, but Perez may have some lottery ticket in him as a position player. As is, he should be thought of as organizational depth with a tad of upside.
Bottom Line: The Yankees ended up selling extremely low on Adams. They probably had opportunities to sell high along the way but decided against it. Adams is known to have advanced spin rates on both his fastball and curve and that is what fascinates people about him. However, he has yet to harness that into the ability to get MLB hitters out. Kansas City will offer him an extended look to see if he can be more consistent, but his time simply ran out from the Yankees perspective.