Years before Nick Adenhart made his debut with the Angels in May 2008, he was a high school phenom attending Williamsport High in Washington County, Maryland. In May 2004, the Baltimore Sun profiled him. The newspaper said of the flurry of scouts that were tracking his every move at games:
This is what happens when you pitch a no-hitter against Allegany in the Class A regional playoffs, losing 1-0, and achieve perfection against the same team to begin your senior season. When Baseball America declares you the No. 1-rated high school player in the country and makes you a local celebrity, whether you like it or not.
“It’s something you have to block out, but I appreciate the attention,” he said after striking out nine Catoctin batters in five innings last week. “It’s obviously a good thing, and my teammates have responded really well. They treat me just like the next guy in line.”
Center of attention
The buzz surrounding Adenhart, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander, started three years ago during a fall tryout. It picked up after he went 6-1 with a 1.20 ERA as a junior. Now it roars like a jet engine.
“He’s been dealing with it fine,” said his stepfather, Duane Gigeous, “but I wouldn’t wish this on any 17-year-old kid.” The catch, of course, is that Adenhart isn’t like most 17-year-olds.
How many of them can throw three above-average pitches, including a fastball that touches 95 mph and overwhelms young hitters who choke up on the bat with little hope of making solid contact? How many are projected to go within the first 10 picks of next month’s draft?
“I’ve seen it happen before, where a kid comes into the season and you think, `This guy can’t miss,’ and the wheels fall off. But this kid’s got a great arm,” said a National League scout. “He’ll have a bright future in professional baseball if he decides to go that route.”
Jim Callis, executive editor at Baseball America, said of the upcoming draft: “It’s a great year for college pitchers, but I don’t see why he won’t go in the top 10. He should go off the board real quick. And I think he’ll get drafted high enough that it would be real hard to turn down that bonus.”
Callis compared Adenhart to Homer Bailey, a high school pitcher in Texas who has gone on to stardom with the Cincinnati Reds: “They’re neck-and-neck. They both have mid-90s fastballs. Nick probably has a better changeup, but both of them throw strikes and have real easy deliveries. The consensus might be that Nick is a little more polished and Bailey has a tad more stuff, but that’s splitting hairs.”
Adenhart said of all the attention: “It’s hectic. It puts a lot of pressure on you. It puts everything you do under a microscope. I like to get out and be with my friends and enjoy the high school experience as much as I can, get away from it a little. The easiest time is out on the field.”
The Sun added that the scouts “should have seen him at Camden Yards three years ago, making the Maryland Orioles fall team at 14 because he was better than the older high school-eligible pitchers who normally fill out the roster.
“We had some good ones there, too,” said Dean Albany, an Orioles scout who coaches the fall team. “Usually, they’re 11th-graders. He was in ninth, but he threw so nice and easy and fluid.”
“Dean hadn’t watched me throw before that,” said Adenhart, who also became the youngest player to make Albany’s summer team. “He said, `You can come down and throw off the mound. It’ll be an experience, but I’m not sure you’re going to make the team.’ I happened to open some eyes. I was pretty oblivious to all the things going on around me.”
His stepfather, Duane Gigeous, said: “His 10-year-old brother [Henry] keeps him in line. And he’s been dealing with this since he was 14. He’s a realist. He knows all these guys are standing here and watching, but the chapter isn’t finished. It’s like spending money you don’t have. He’s not that type of kid. We’re not that type of people.”
On May 11, 2004, Adenhart, making his last regular season start, against South Hagerstown, walked off the mound with elbow trouble. He had Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in the elbow, and as a result interest in him from MLB teams declined: the Angels got him in the 14th round. Their head of scouting, Eddie Bane, explained: “He was playing shortstop the day after his injury, and we had to get that straightened out. But we said, look, you can go ahead and go to North Carolina and wait three years to turn pro. Or you can sign with us, go to Arizona State and rehab with our people, and go to the Instructional League in the fall.”
In February 2005, the Orange County Register added: “The Angels, getting the all-clear from Dr. Lew Yocum, picked Adenhart in the 14th round. Anyone could have. But not everyone would have gathered up $710,000. Adenhart signed and is scheduled to pitch from a mound in Mesa, maybe in October. If all the scouts are right, more Octobers loom. “We felt that kind of money was a bargain for a guy who can be a top-of-the-rotation guy,” Bane said. “But that’s what I’m able to do with Arte and Bill.”
In February 2008, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported:
He took two semesters of classes at Arizona State while he worked out at the Angels’ Tempe facilities for a year while his arm recovered. He finally began pitching for the team’s summer league squad and its Rookie League team, going a combined 3-3 with a 3.24 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 50 innings.
“It would be easy coming out of high school after you strike everybody out 90 percent of the time to step into a pro setting and think you’re going to do the same thing,” said Adenhart, 21, who benefited from “getting that year, year-and-a-half to take it all in and realize that everybody’s got some talent and it’s going to take something extra.”
The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder has improved his mechanics, made his motion more fluid and is throwing his curve better and with no reservations.
His rise through the team’s minor league system has been quick, and despite the Angels’ pitching depth, he could make his major league debut this season – and all the sooner if another Angels pitcher comes up lame. After going 10-8 with a 3.65 ERA for Class AA Arkansas last year, tied for third in the Texas League with 116 strikeouts, Adenhart is slated to begin the year at Class AAA Salt Lake.
At the time (2008), Mike Scioscia said: “He has a terrific arm. He’s got a live fastball with terrific action. He’s got a changeup right now that is a big major league pitch … and a terrific curveball.
“I think one thing with Nick is understanding how to put pitches together. As he gets more experience, he’s understanding that more and more. There’s a lot of reasons to get excited about him – his makeup on the mound, his stuff …”