Garrett Jones: Does He Have Staying Power, or Is He Just a One-Year Wonder?

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Garrett Jones: Does He Have Staying Power, or Is He Just a One-Year Wonder?
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Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 14th round of the 1999 draft as an 18-year-old first baseman and twice a free agent, Garrett Jones took the major leagues by storm in his first legitimate opportunity to make his case.

Called up on June 30, 2009 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team looking to rid itself of a lot of its dead weight and infuse its lineup with younger players, Jones accomplished something he hadn’t done in his 11-year baseball career: He secured a starting job in the major leagues.

For a team that has become a mark of futility in baseball over the past decade, Jones was able to secure himself everyday at-bats for this season due to this line he put up in 82 games last year:

314 At-Bats
.293 Batting Average (165 Hits)
21 Home Runs
44 RBI
45 Runs
10 Stolen Bases
.372 On-Base Percentage
.567 Slugging Percentage
.323 Batting Average on Balls in Play

The biggest concern fantasy owners have this year is based on Jones’ history: It took him three organizations and five seasons in Triple-A to become major-league relevant, so how should anybody trust him in 2010?

Currently, Jones is owned in 99.2 percent of fantasy leagues in ESPN, with an ADP of 209. That means in a 12-team league, Jones is being taken in the 17th round. I took him in the 18th round of one of my drafts and believe he will fit in my 1B/3B spot very nicely. In addition, he has outfield eligibility, so if anyone goes down there, he has versatility going for him as well.

For what it’s worth, Jones had four HR and 15 RBI this spring, with a pretty awful .211 AVG and 13 strikeouts to go along with just three walks. On Opening Day, Jones hit two home runs; the next day he hit another. Since then, he’s tallied two hits, with only one strikeout and three walks.

However, when you’re assessing a larger sample size of what he did last year, a huge question remains: Is it repeatable?

Purely looking at his five Triple-A season hit rates, his ground-ball rate finished at 41.3 percent, his line-drive rate at 17 percent, and his fly-ball rate at 41.6 percent. The rates Jones put up last season compare very favorably to what he’s done throughout the past five seasons in the minors.

The two obvious major end-of-the-year stats that may be unattainable this season are the 21.1 percent HR/FB rate he finished with last season and his .293 AVG.

Jones has always put up very solid power numbers. In his 23-year-old campaign in Double-A with the Twins, he had 30 bombs, followed by seasons of 24 HR, 21 HR, 15 HR (combined in the majors and Triple-A), 23 HR, and 33 combined home runs last season. The only problem is: Jones put up those power numbers with at least 400 at-bats; last season he had 21 HR in just 314 at-bats.

Jones isn’t an elite power option, which his 21.1 percent HR/FB indicates. If he were, he would finish right up there with Alex Rodriguez and Adrian Gonzalez—two established power hitters at the major league level—but he’s not. Is it reasonable to expect 25 HR this season in closer to 500 at-bats? I think so.

Another flaw in his season-end statistics is his batting average. A .293 mark is solid, but so long as Jones stays in the majors, there should be no way he repeats that mark. For one, his .323 BABIP finished above his Triple-A average of .295. Secondly, he’s not all that fast, so he won’t convert many of his ground balls into base hits.

Further, Jones is predominantly a fly ball hitter. Most of those either travel over the fence or into an outfielder's glove, so it’s not all that helpful in padding an average.

Jones also doesn’t hit enough line drives to be a reliable average hitter. Even though he finished up last season’s Triple-A stint with a 23.2 percent line-drive rate, it was his highest in three years, when he finished with an 18.5 percent rate in 2006.

The 28-year-old starting right fielder and third-place/cleanup hitter for the Pirates also struggled mightily against lefties last season—a .208 AVG with just six of his home runs isn’t getting the job done. He’ll have to improve upon that level if he is going to remain a constant in fantasy lineups.

In addition, Jones is a slugger, so he will strike out a lot (24.2 percent rate last year), and he has relatively poor plate discipline for his stature in the lineup. Don’t be fooled by his 11.2 percent walk rate from last season. Though his on-base percentages have steadily improved over the past four years, a .319 OBP (five-year Triple-A average) isn’t exactly commendable from a power source such as Jones.

Still, a full year from Andrew McCutchen and a lineup that has some potential this year should help Jones produce like he’s capable.

Fantasy owners need to temper their expectations in regards to what Jones can do this season. As a late round first base or outfield option—or even a 1B/3B—Jones’ profile fits perfectly. You will get yourself into trouble if you expect him to be a formidable option anywhere.

A season of 25 HR, 80 RBI is tasty, but the average, which could be in the .260s (or even .250s), is not. Think Ian Stewart here: The power potential is intriguing, but the average makes you cringe.

What do you guys think about Jones’ 2010 prospects? Is he someone you’ve targeted in the later rounds? Or are you writing off last season?

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