When the Orioles traded ace starting pitcher Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners for a cast of players, highlighted by Jones, there were many skeptics questioning whether the then-22-year-old outfielder could parlay the potential he had showed at the minor league level into major league success.
Even though he had played only 73 games in parts of two seasons with the Mariners, the fact that Jones had managed to hit only .230 with three home runs and 12 runs batted in led some to believe that he might not be able to cut it at the major league level.
From day one after he joined the Orioles, team president Andy MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley made it clear that Adam Jones would be given every opportunity to cement his place as the centerfielder for the Orioles.
Despite missing several weeks with a broken foot, Jones’ first season with the Orioles was generally solid and he displayed glimpses of the stardom that had once been predicted. He finished the season with a .270 batting average, nine home runs, 57 RBIs and 21 doubles.
Critics were quick to point out that Jones struck out too often to be a reliable number two hitter (108 strikeouts compared to only 23 walks) and didn’t take advantage of his speed, amassing just 10 steals. His power production was also lower than expected and inconsistent to boot.
While the talented young centerfielder did have some flaws in his game, it was still obvious that he was a major upgrade from what the Orioles had been putting on the field in recent years.
A position once roamed with distinction by Baltimore greats including Paul Blair, Al Bumbry, Mike Devereux and Brady Anderson, the last decade has seen a steady parade of average players in centerfield for the Birds including Luis Matos, Corey Patterson and Chris Singleton.
After spending much of his first season in Baltimore hitting near the bottom of the lineup, Jones was inserted into the number two spot by Tremblay at the start of the 2009 season and the results have been incredible.
Through the first 24 games of the season, Jones ranks among the leading hitters in the American league with a .371 batting average. He leads the team with 28 runs scored and already has eight doubles, five home runs and 19 runs batted in.
Jones also has been displaying much better plate discipline than in his first season with the O’s. He has struck out only 16 times and his nine walks are nearly half of his total for the entire 2008 season.
While the Orioles have not gotten off to a great start in the standings, the top five hitters in the Baltimore lineup are as formidable as any in baseball.
With Brian Roberts (.320 BA, eight doubles), Nick Markakis (.363, 24 RBI), Aubrey Huff (.289, 22 RBI) and Melvin Mora (.290), and Jones in the lineup, the Orioles make things tough right out of the box for opposing pitchers, as they have scored more runs in the first inning than in any other.
As the Orioles look toward the future, having an outfield with two potential All-Stars in Markakis and Jones is a great foundation on which to build.
It is a long season and doubtful that Jones will maintain his torrid early season pace, but there is little doubt that he has stabilized an important position for the Birds and should give Orioles fans lots to cheer about for many years to come.