On a November morning in Glendale, Ariz., the sparkling fields at Camelback Ranch scream for baseball, but look around, and it feels like a ghost town. The hustle and bustle you see during spring training has been replaced by the sound of nothingness, just desert air breezing by, tumbleweeds rolling through the parking lot far off in the distance.
This is where you will find Micker Adolfo, the White Sox prospect working his way back to health and back to baseball.
He’s the only player at the facility.
Welcome to the life of an athlete returning from Tommy John surgery, an often lonely, isolating existence, where time stands still, and baseball dreams get put on hold.
“Body wise, I’m 40 percent, arm wise 30 percent. Still a long way to go,” said Adolfo, who’s about four months removed from the surgery to repair the UCL in his right elbow.
It's a procedure that usually needs eight to 10 months to heal. It’s an injury to his throwing arm, arguably the best outfield arm in the entire White Sox organization. Add the fact that he’s 6-foot-3 and has the physique of an NFL tight end and you can dream about the 22-year-old’s ceiling, which is somewhere in the high Arizona sky.
If all three of them reach their potential, or come close to it, the White Sox would have a dynamic future outfield of Adolfo, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.
During last spring training, a day before Adolfo learned about his elbow injury, the three of them were standing in the outfield together, dreaming about the possibilities.
“We were just talking about how cool it would be to one day be part of the same outfield in the major leagues, hitting behind each other in the order, envisioning ourselves winning championships,” Adolfo said. “I really envision myself someday in the outfield next to Eloy and Luis Robert.”
Adolfo met Jimenez when they were both 15. They’ve been friends ever since. Right after Jimenez was traded from the Cubs to the White Sox, Adolfo was the first player to call Jimenez.
“I’m glad he’s here now,” Adolfo said.
If the White Sox happen to sign a big-time free agent outfielder to a long term contract, that could wreck their plans of sharing the same outfield.
“It’s so much fun to see the amount of talent we have in this system, not just the outfielders but everybody. Some of us might make it with the White Sox, others might not. All you can control is going out there and giving 100 percent,” Adolfo said.
Tommy John surgeries are a reality in baseball. They’ve just happened to hit the White Sox farm system square in the gut in the last year and a half, taking out Adolfo, Michael Kopech and Zack Burdi.
Sometimes Adolfo is joined by other injured White Sox prospects who have made Camelback Ranch their second home: Burdi, Jake Burger and 2017 10th round pick J.B. Olson to name a few.
Burdi and Olson are further along in their TJ recoveries. They’ve offered wisdom and advice to Adolfo.
“I was having a hard time with my range of motion,” Adolfo said. “I would talk to them. What’s some stuff I can do to improve?”
Adolfo’s rehab is a little easier now in one respect: baseball season is over. No need to follow (or ignore) the box scores. Adolfo’s main focus is his health — and the calendar.
“My timetable for throwing is sometime near January. Obviously I won’t be full-go for spring training, but they’re hoping at least I’ll be full-go to hit and I’ll work my way back into the outfield,” Adolfo said.
He’s hoping to be back full-time as both a hitter and outfielder by May or June.
“(The White Sox) are probably going to want to take it slow and I want to take it slow,” Adolfo said.
It’s been a rollercoaster year for Adolfo who after spraining the UCL, got the medical green light to DH to start the season since it couldn’t do any future damage to his arm. He went to Class-A Winston-Salem, where he had a breakthrough season, slashing .282/.369/.464 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in 79 games.
By mid-season, there seemed to be another breakthrough in regards to his injury.
“I went back to Chicago and (the elbow) was healed,” Adolfo said.
He went on a throwing program for a month. He was close to getting back in the outfield. But then…
“A day before I was supposed to take the outfield, on the last throw doing infield (drills), I felt a pop again, and that was it. Surgery was definitely required at that moment. I felt it immediately,” Adolfo explained.
Adolfo would have the TJ surgery. A full recovery is expected, but to get so close to returning to the outfield and have a setback like that was crushing to say the least.
“It was pretty upsetting because we built such a good bond with that team in Winston. We were doing so good. We won the first half together. I felt like I was a special part of that team, and then it was just gone,” he said.
Despite not being able to play in the second half of the season, Adolfo doesn’t have to look far to find some silver linings to his injury.
“Nobody wants to go through this, but this is actually a good time to know my body,” he said. “I’m working on a lot of things that I’ve never worked on before. A lot of exercises I’m doing, I didn’t know about them. It’s not heavyweight, it’s lightweight stuff and doing a lot of reps, activating those little muscles.”
Unable to play the outfield this past season, Adolfo took advantage of the extra time to fully concentrate on his hitting.
“I walked more than I did last season in less plate appearances. My strikeout rate went down as well. That’s something I’m going to continue to try to improve as the years go on,” Adolfo said. “I was just focused on my hitting. Not to take away from defense and all that, because I take pride in everything, but I wanted to get better as a hitter. I’m very happy that happened.”
In the meantime, it’s back to the grind of recovery. There are good days and bad days. Sometimes you see the light at the end of the tunnel, other times, it’s an oncoming train hauling a heavy freight of doubt and fear.
That’s the reality of this kind of surgery, but Adolfo sees better days ahead.
“I’m very positive right now,” Adolfo said. “I’m hoping for the best come spring training.”