Jordon Adell is poised to fulfill his destiny in MLB draft
High school senior could have played other sports but stuck with baseball despite the lack of players who look like him
Jordon “Jo” Adell was born to play basketball.
Adell is a physical slasher and an incredible leaper with a 40-inch vertical that would have placed him in the top 10 players in this year’s NBA draft combine. “I play with power,” he says.
Adell was born to play football.
The coaches at Louisville’s Ballard High School attempted to persuade Adell to try out for the sport his freshman year, envisioning his combination of length (he’s 6-feet-3) and speed (his 60 time is a blazing 6.19) as a downfield receiver. “A friend of mine used to be one of the top wide receivers in the state, but he didn’t want me to come out,” Adell said confidently. “He wanted to keep his throne.”
Adell believes he was destined to play baseball.
Monday night, he will take the next step when he is likely among the top picks of the Major League Baseball draft. He’s been invited to the draft in Secaucus, New Jersey, and will attend with his parents and his sister.
As a right-handed pitcher, he brings the heat, throwing an accurate fastball that’s been clocked as high as 97 mph.
But Adell doesn’t want to pitch. Instead, he sees himself patrolling an outfield, which would allow him to be a slugger. He earned a high school rep of hitting balls distances that few players his age can reach. And he did it better than anybody else this past season, leading the nation with 25 home runs.
If Adell’s selected in the top 10 Monday night — mock drafts have him going as high as ninth — he’ll likely earn a signing bonus between $5 million and $6 million. Not bad for a kid who, on his recent 18th birthday, was worrying about approaching adulthood, independence and how to afford his growing affinity for the newest Jordan sneakers.
Adell could put his professional career on hold to play college baseball at the University of Louisville, which offered him a scholarship when he was 14. The Cardinals, a baseball powerhouse, have long envisioned Adell as a two-way player.
Easy choice, right? Go with the guaranteed money for a guy whose hitting instructor, Jered Goodwin, says is the best athlete in this year’s draft. Goodwin isn’t just blowing smoke — he runs a baseball organization that has had more than 200 players selected in the MLB draft, 25 of them in the first round. Adell is likely to be the 26th.
Whether Adell, who not so long ago was probably just the third-best athlete in his family, is a member of an MLB organization is based on one simple factor.
“If a team drafts me, I don’t want it to be because I was the next best available player,” Adell said. “I want them to really want me. I want to be their guy.”
Adell was 7 years old when he joined his first organized baseball team. He was a member of the Marlins, an entry-level team that played its games at the Lyndon Recreation Complex in Louisville.
The dimensions of field No. 1 at the Lyndon complex are modest: 97 feet to right, 108 to dead center and 99 to left. For a 7-year-old, that’s a pretty good poke, so the cars parked in the elevated lot overlooking left field were never really at risk.
Adell changed that.
For the record, John Cameron was Adell’s first victim. Cameron lobbed a ball into a sweet spot Adell didn’t even know he had, and the kid crushed it, nearly connecting with a few parked cars in the lot above.
Cameron’s head did a quick swivel. Parents gasped. Adell held his form at home plate, but not to admire his shot.
“I didn’t think I caught it at first; I just looked at the coaches and they told me to run,” Adell remembered. “I didn’t even break into my home run trot until I got around third base. I just didn’t know.”
Adell looked into the crowd to see if his dad was there.
Scott Adell was more than 700 miles away in Edison, New Jersey, attending a dinner meeting with potential clients for the medical supply company where he worked. He kept abreast of the game through text messages sent to him by his wife, Nicole.
When Nicole called during his dinner, Scott became alarmed. “She knew where I was, so she wouldn’t interrupt me with a call,” Scott Adell said. “I thought maybe Jordon had gotten hurt.”
Scott Adell excused himself from the dinner table and answered the phone. Nicole Adell put their son on the line.
Adell was excited.
“Dad, I just hit one out!”
Scott Adell was proud. And angry.
“It absolutely broke my heart that I wasn’t there to see the first one,” Scott said, admitting he teared up when he hung up the phone. “When I got back in town, I had all these parents saying they had never seen a kid hit a ball so far on that field.”
That’s the moment Scott Adell made a vow.
“I was not going to miss another game,” Scott Adell said. “From that point I had the schedule before anyone else. I made sure I was always there. Until he started playing with the national teams later in high school, I didn’t miss a game.”
Even with that early success, Adell had big shoes to fill.
His dad was a massive offensive lineman at North Carolina State, where his quickness and agility led the New Orleans Saints to draft him in the 12th round in 1992. A herniated disc ended his NFL career before it even began.
But Adell wasn’t looking to fill Scott’s athletic feet as much as he was chasing the athletic feats of his older sister, Jessica. By the time Adell entered Ballard High School, his sister was already a legend as one of the nation’s premier softball players.
Jessica Adell was short in stature at 5-5, but long in talent. She was a two-way player who pitched with power, hit with accuracy and covered the outfield with finesse. By the time her storied high school career was over, she had earned All-America honors (2014), was named the state’s Miss Softball (2014), was selected as the Gatorade Kentucky Softball Player of the Year (2012-13) and signed with the University of Tennessee to play softball.
“She put a lot of pressure on Jo,” Scott Adell said. “Everybody knew her, everyone recognized her, and she was getting scholarship offers from everywhere.”
Jessica Adell was so athletically gifted that Ballard’s baseball coach, David Trager, began salivating when he found out the kid in his eighth-grade camp was her little brother.
“I knew how gifted she was,” Trager said. “So all I was thinking was how athletic he might become.”
Adell told the coaches he was a third baseman, and they immediately sent him there to see what he had.
After Adell fielded a few grounders and firing bullets over to first base, the coaches pulled him aside with a new directive: “You’re pitching.”
In time, Adell was intimidating opponents with a fastball clocked in the mid-90s (he’s hit 97 mph a few times in his career). “He threw a lot for us as a freshman and sophomore and had some great games,” Trager said.
But his power extended beyond his arm. At the plate he’d hit shots to places few kids could reach. Slowly, his body began to transform from the stocky 5-10 freshman to the lean, well-chiseled 6-3, 200-pound player he is today.
The body transformation didn’t come naturally. Adell hit the weight room hard, inspired both by his sister’s athletic standing in high school and by her freakish athleticism.
“It was never a rivalry, but she motivated me,” Adell said. “Watching her in the outfield in high school making these crazy plays, it drove me to make speed, fluid movement a part of my game.”
The other athletic teams at Ballard had a strong desire to make Adell a part of their teams. After watching Adell drop 24 points a game in a competitive Louisville rec league, Ballard basketball coach Chris Renner approached with a proposition.
“He told me that I could play one game, once a week, and we’d be good,” Adell recalled. “My dad was against that. He was afraid that I’d turn an ankle or fall and get hurt.”
Adell was also approached by the football team as a freshman, but Scott Adell shot that down immediately.
“I know as a teen, you think you’re invincible,” Scott Adell said. “But I had concussions, and most of the guys that I’ve played with have, over the years, broken down to some degree.
“I told him I don’t care what you play. I just don’t want you to have the head contact that can affect you later in life.”
There was never a temptation to try football. Adell, instead, gave his complete attention to become the best baseball player he could be.
He hired a strength coach, which helped his speed, power and agility.
He’s trained the past two years in Florida with Goodwin, a first-year coach at Florida International University and co-founder of Florida Travel Baseball, which has had more than 200 players drafted by MLB.
And he’s played a lot of baseball. Adell estimated he took the field in more than 145 games last summer, spending much of that time on a national travel team. “Didn’t matter who was throwing or who I was playing for, I was going to get as many at-bats as possible,” Adell said.
Adell had quite the payoff. He was the nation’s high school leader in home runs (25), four short of the all-time Kentucky record.
He was also fourth in the nation in slugging percentage (1.437) and seventh in the nation in RBIs (61), and on May 30 he was named the Gatorade Kentucky Baseball Player of the Year. He’s expected to be named Kentucky’s Mr. Baseball when that award is announced later this month.
“One of my favorite Jordon stories was a game this season when he hit what I thought was a home run, but he drove it so far down the left-field line the umpire called it foul,” Trager said. “Two pitches later he drives a pitch to right center and the center fielder took two steps and stopped. The ball couldn’t have been 30 feet off the ground. For a kid to make that kind of adjustment to drive two balls during the same at-bat, that was the moment where I said, ‘Wow.’ ”
Everyone around him began to think Adell had major league talent when he was one of two underclassmen selected to play in the Under Armour All-America game as a junior. He also won the Home Run Derby at the 2016 Area Code Games. By his senior year, Adell had put pitching aside to dedicate himself to being a hitter.
“When I first worked with him, I told him don’t let anybody talk you into being a pitcher,” Goodwin said. “Not too many people possess his bat speed. I told him that he was going to hit, and he was going to mash.”
Adell possesses a beautiful swing, complete with a slight front leg kick that reminds you of a right-handed Ken Griffey Jr. While Adell cites New York Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson as his favorite player, Goodwin says Adell’s game most resembles Lorenzo Cain, the Kansas City Royals center fielder.
His dad has been told by some baseball observers that Adell reminds them of what Bo Jackson might have looked like if he just played baseball.
“The first time I heard that, it was shocking because Bo exploded out the box, Bo had power and made great plays in the outfield,” Jo said. “I look at guys like Ken Griffey Jr. and admire a swing that’s easy and powerful. I look for stuff in others that can potentially help my game.”
If Adell is selected in the first round as expected, he’d become the first player taken in the draft straight out of high school from Ballard since pitcher Jeremy Sowers (20th pick of the 2001 draft).
That would be quite an accomplishment for a player who sought to transform his body to keep up with his sister.
Jessica Adell played softball at Tennessee as a freshman before transferring to Louisville. She played softball for the Cardinals in 2016 before moving to track full time as a javelin thrower. She recently complimented her brother, pointing out his .560 batting average as a senior.
“But remember this,” she added in a mic drop moment. “I batted .590 in my last year.”
Adell recently flew to Florida to prepare for the draft in better weather conditions than Louisville, but a five-inch downpour the day before his arrival left the field at Florida International University saturated.
No worries. He enters the indoor batting cage to get in a few swings under Goodwin’s watchful eye, working up an appetite in the process.
After a few hours at his hotel in Doral, Florida, about a half hour west of South Beach, Adell heads to the Kona Grill restaurant.
Adell just turned 18, so he takes Uber to the restaurant (he’s not old enough to rent a car). He strolls in tall and confident, sporting a gray short-sleeved hoodie and a pair of slim-fit Levi’s.
Scooping the flatbread pizza and calamari appetizers onto his plate, Adell is your typical teenager as he talks excitedly about his recent prom and his developing taste for fashion.
“Gray suit, white shirt, black loafers, everything was right,” Adell said. “It was a good look.”
He speaks warmly about the influence of his father and brags about the impact that his mother has made as a principal in successfully turning around what was a troubled Louisville-area middle school.
“That’s where my work ethic comes from, my mom,” Adell said. “What she’s done at that school is amazing, and I go over there quite a bit to encourage the kids and let them know they can be anything they want to be in life.
“That they can even play baseball.”
And that’s the message he wants to drive home to young African-American boys who are identified as athletes early and quickly steered to play either football or basketball.
Adell knows the declining numbers for African-Americans in baseball: 7.73 percent of MLB rosters this year, as opposed to 8.27 percent a year ago. Even at the height of baseball’s popularity among African-Americans, the number of black players has never exceeded 19 percent.
For Adell, the lack of players who looked like him was never a deterrent. His dad was one of those lured into football, even though baseball was his favorite sport. Scott Adell wanted to make sure his son didn’t fall into that same trap and was free to pursue the sport that he loved.
As long as it wasn’t football.
“This is what I enjoy, and I knew that I wasn’t going to stop playing this game regardless of whether anybody looked like me or not,” Adell said. “As I got older and started playing more out of state, I realized there are more African-American players than what you think.”
What’s behind the resurgence that he sees on the amateur level, according to Adell, is baseball’s desire to find the best athletes possible.
“The days of swinging hard and not being able to play in the outfield are over,” he said. “They’re looking for guys who can run, guys who can move and guys who are agile. You can play baseball and make lots of money because you’re a freak athlete. I want to be able to reach out to people and show them that.”
Adell is well on his way to becoming a role model for young African-American boys. Besides taking the time to speak to students at schools, he has collected athletic gear to donate to various athletic teams and offered encouragement to young black players via social media.
That makes his dad proud.
“It’s a shame that African-American kids have been sold a bill of goods that says they can only play basketball or football,” Scott Adell said of his son. “We’re strong supporters of the RBI program, and we’ve talked about setting up camps. I want him to dedicate himself to work with African-American kids.”
Adell will have a big role if he’s able to live up to his potential. The first step to that happening: the MLB draft.
He’s not likely to be the top pick (that honor will likely go to Hunter Greene, the 17-year-old pitcher who was recently clocked at 102 mph).
But Adell plans to be the best dressed.
As he drops his chopsticks into his second order of California rolls, Adell offers details about his draft day outfit.
He’ll rock a plaid royal and navy blue suit combination, featuring slim-fit slacks that fall down to his ankles. He’s a bow tie guy; his will be royal blue, which will complement the white shirt set off by navy blue buttons. A last-minute suggestion has him in search of a pair of baseball-shaped cuff links.
Adell smiles as he mentions the kicker: all-white shoes — Kanye West-designed Yeezys — that he hopes the television cameras will capture as he walks to the stage.
While his dad is a nervous wreck as the draft approaches, Adell is completely at ease. The hard work, in his mind, is over.
It’s time, in his mind, to fulfill his destiny.
“I’ve prepared for this my entire life, and I’m excited,” Adell said. “Hopefully, I’m in a position where the team that picks me is excited to have me. The biggest thing: I want to be in a place where I’m wanted.”