Before this month, I doubt many of you had heard of Pirates outfielder Garrett Jones.
Now, the power-hitting Jones is the hot pickup in fantasy baseball, and he's immediately become a middle-of-the-order presence for the Pirates.
At 28, Jones seemed to come out of nowhere to most people, but as a minor league analyst, I've known about Jones for years.
Jones didn't come out of nowhere—actually, he came out of an Illinois high school back in 1999, when he was a 14th-round pick of the Braves.
Jones struggled for two years in rookie ball, and was respectable in his third year. The Braves released him anyway in May 2002, and the Twins snatched Jones up three days later.
Fast forward to early 2004. Jones is about to turn 23, and he's hitting terribly at High-A (.242/.286/.364). He's already coming off two bad seasons (2002 in Low-A and 2003 in High-A) in which he didn't hit above .220 or post an OBP above .280.
For a first baseman/left fielder, that's completely unacceptable.
So toward the end of that first month, Jones was called into the High-A manager's office.
You'd think it was because he'd been released.
But it was because he was promoted to Double-A.
That move makes absolutely no sense, but it sure worked. Garrett Jones absolutely tore up the pitcher-friendly Double-A Eastern League that year. He hit .311/.356/.593 with 30 homers in just 122 games.
All of a sudden, 23-year-old Garrett Jones, straight out of five bad years, had turned himself into a B+/A- grade power prospect.
If anything in Jones' career came out of nowhere, that was it.
Obviously, Jones was sent to Triple-A the next year. In 2005 and 2006, Jones hit a combined 45 home runs in Triple-A, which is a nice total.
But he didn't do anything else.
Jones hit a combined .241/.300/.437 over those two years, not showing enough contact ability or plate discipline to make it to the major leagues.
Jones entered 2007 about to turn 26, with one good year in eight to his credit. As good as that one year was, it wasn't enough to make anyone notice him much, because of the seven bad ones.
Jones did improve in 2007, hitting .280/.334/.473. He also got a fairly decent-sized look at a job in Minnesota, and flopped, with a .202/.262/.338 line in 77 ABs.
With that failure, Minnesota gave up on Garrett Jones. The Twins kept him in Triple-A throughout his decent 2008 (.279/.337/.484; a near carbon-copy of 2007), and let him go after the year.
The Pirates picked Jones up, seeing a guy with 81 Triple-A homers in four years and figuring he could be a lefty power bat off the bench, or at least Triple-A filler.
The switch of organization seemed to help Jones, who bumped his average back up over .300 and his slugging back up over .500 for the first time since his big Double-A breakout.
Jones' .307/.348/.502 line was enough to get a look a few weeks ago in the wake of Nyjer Morgan's trade to the Nationals.
He's hitting .310/.370/.762.
Granted, the guy has 46 plate appearances, and nobody short of a most-likely-roided-up Barry Bonds slugs .762.
But do those numbers remind you of something?
They remind me of Jones' 2004 in Double-A.
It's a somewhat similar circumstance: both times, Jones got a promotion that was questionable given his track record, and just absolutely dominated opposing pitchers thereafter.
Obviously, Jones has a ton of power—you don't hit 30 homers in 122 games in the Eastern League if you don't have a ton of power. The question is whether Jones will be able to hit for enough average at the major league level. Jones doesn't have a lot of plate discipline, so his OBP is basically tied to his batting average.
Jones has certainly had a strange career, but he has demonstrated a high-average bat at times. If he can keep the power in high gear and hit around .275, Jones could be a solid starter in left field for five or six years. If he can't, he'll be back on the bench quickly.
The similarity of 2009 to 2004 is too great to be ignored, and if Jones capitalizes on his promotion similarly, the Pirates will have a solid middle-of-the-order bat for years to come.
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