"His pitch selection is so much better. His knowledge of the strike zone is so much better. That is very difficult to improve for a young player, but he has great hand-eye coordination. And he is a great athlete. He is also a very, very smart young man," said O's manager Dave Trembley of star Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. Jones is 23, but is one of the rising stars in baseball. For any Baltimore fan, it's been truly amazing watching how much Adam Jones has improved. I know it's just four games, but in the first four games last year, Jones was batting .214 with two RBI, a .200 OBP, .286 slugging average and .486 OPS. Like they say, it's a difference of a year. So far, the O's are 3-1, and have received lots of help from Jones, as he is batting .429 with three RBI, a .471 OBP, .786 slugging average and 1.257 OPS.
Perhaps the most impressive thing is his plate discipline. All through last year, he wasn't patient at the plate, striking out a lot more than he walked, 108 to 23, to be exact. This year, the discipline is improved, as he has four strikeouts and two walks - but it goes beyond that. He's tiring the pitchers, something that is needed knowing Nick Markakis is the next guy up in the O's lineup. Jones has the skill set, in my mind, of a Bobby Abreu with less plate discipline and better defense. Jones has a fantastic arm, 30/30 potential and his plate discipline is only getting better. Now I know it's foolish for me to get excited about Jones accomplishment through four games, but he exhibited his talent late last year and all through Spring Training.
While O's fans love to talk about guys like Matt Wieters, Brian Roberts, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Nick Markakis and Brad Bergesen, Jones is one of the most talented players in the system. He's the O's future center fielder and I'm sure the Seattle Mariners regret that very much. If you don't already know, Jones was traded from the Mariners to the Baltimore Orioles, along with four other players for left handed pitcher Erik Bedard. While we all know Bedard has 15-win potential, Jones and other pieces of the trade, like Chris Tillman, ensure that the Mariners will never win that trade regardless of Bedard's future with Seattle. The scariest thing about Jones is that he's not even fully developed as a baseball player. He was 12 years old when he stated playing baseball competitively.
"I tell [Orioles pitcher Mark] Hendrickson [a former NBA player] that I will dunk on him," Jones said, "and he's not believing that for one second." Jones is athletic, as he played basketball as a guard and football as a defensive end, cornerback and punter. Jones came in to the Mariners farm system as a 178-pound shortstop. Since then, he has gained 47 pounds, and thanks to his training as a shortstop, he can run well and can steal bases when asked. Jones has a very bright future ahead of him, and it's scary to imagine how good he'll be in 2010 and beyond. There is not a doubt in my mind that Jones has 30 home run, 30 steal potential. It might sound crazy, as Jones had just nine homers and ten steals last year, he, like I mentioned, isn't fully developed.
In his last year in the minors, 2007, he smashed 25 homers. In working with third base coach John "T-Bone" Shelby, Jones has been learning the art of stealing bases, and while he doesn't have any thus far, you can expect he'll rack up 15-25 on the year. Again, Bedard has unbelievable potential, but when you break it down, he's only had two good years. He was 15-11 in 196 innings for the O's in 2006 and came back even better in 2007, going 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA. Last year with the Mariners, he was just 6-4 and suffered a season ending injury. In his first start of the 2009 season, he was bad, allowing three runs in five innings and taking a no decision.
When you throw in the fact that the Mariners gave the Orioles their future ace or No. 2 starter in Chris Tillman and possibly future closer, Kam Mickolio, then you know the O's have won thus far and the outcome won't change. Trembley has been raving about Jones since Spring Training in 2008, and O's fans knew why then. Now, everyone knows why.
"People who have been in this game far longer than I have said that from one Spring Training to the next, Jones looks like he's the most improved guy people have seen in a long, long time," said the manager. "People have asked me, 'What do you think is it with Jones?' Well, it's two things. One, he's no longer a guy that got traded for somebody. Two, he's the center fielder for the Orioles. And three, it's the ability to recognize pitches and not chase pitches out of the strike zone. That's what he showed today. He didn't chase pitches out of the strike zone, and he's not reluctant to go deep in the count."
Last year, Jones was the guy O's fans didn't want to see in April because of his 'swing-at-the-first-pitch' tendency. Now, when the game is at a climax, O's fans want to see Jones. He exhibited his improvement, when he patiently walked on four pitches against CC Sabathia, who walked 59 and struck out 261 in 2007. The next time, he faced Sabathia, you would expect CC would pound the strike zone. He did. But Jones took him deep for a two-run triple. The next game, in a 7-5 win against the Yanks, he was 1-for-3 with a double, RBI and a run. He struggled on the third game of the year, going 0-for-4, but was 2-for-4 with two doubles in last night's win over the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays.
Bill Bavasi made a trade that will be mentioned in Seattle for bad reasons. Mr. Bavasi, how do you like him now?