Spring has different feel for Jones this year
Outfielder not content, looking to improve in couple of areas
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The story became almost too good to be true last year: A Minor League journeyman finally gets his long-awaited chance, parlaying that opportunity into a breakout season.
It's the type of stuff usually reserved for fictional writing. Only, Garrett Jones lived it.
A year ago, Jones' clubhouse stall was nestled among a group of non-roster invitees. He was hoping to make an impression with a new team, but realistically preparing to begin a fifth straight season at the Triple-A level. The 28-year-old was used to being blocked on the depth chart, conditioned to being overlooked.
Now, he's the center of attention, always on the short list of Pirates players that national media outlets target first. Kids are wearing No. 46 jerseys around McKechnie Field. Baseball writers are pegging him as an integral member of the organization's young future.
"That's pretty surreal," Jones said. "It's a good feeling. You always see other guys' names on jerseys, and when you start seeing yours it's like, 'Wow, that's pretty cool.'"
Jones' storybook climb from Triple-A regular to rookie standout didn't begin until the middle of the 2009 season, despite the strong impression Jones left with Pirates management last spring. When a spot finally opened on the Major League roster at the end of June, Jones got the callup and wasted no time seizing the chance to play regularly.
He became the fastest player in Pirates history to reach 10 homers in a season, doing so in 19 games. Though that pace leveled out during the last two months of the season, Jones still finished with 21 home runs, the most of any rookie in the Majors. He never went more than 10 games without going deep and became just the second player in Major League history to have a 20-homer season without hitting one before July.
"He started to make the adjustment as the league adjusted to him, and he'll continue to do that," manager John Russell said. "To see a guy at his first extended go in the Major Leagues, to be able to adjust, that's a pretty good sign. Not too many guys can do that, that quickly."
Obviously, Jones' 2009 emergence and establishment have him sitting in a much different position this spring. And we're not just talking in terms of where his stuff now sits in the clubhouse. Jones is projected to start the season as the club's everyday right fielder, with a shift to first base a possibility if the Pirates need him there instead.
Regardless, he's going to be a regular middle-of-the-order presence. That much is certain.
2010 Spring Training - Pittsburgh Pirates
News & Features
- Bell excited about first Pirates opener in 17 years
- Hurdle keeps an eye on injury to Cubs' Barney
- First number, last word
- Locke heads into season with confidence high
- Pirates set to play Double-A affiliate in Altoona
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
"It's a good feeling to have, just knowing that you found a place where there is a team that wants you and where you belong," Jones said. "Coming in trying to prove yourself or just show what you can do, you are worried about your results. Whereas this year, I'm just trying to get into the best shape I can going into the season and just feeling as good as I can at the plate. I'm feeling comfortable and relaxed."
The question in everyone's mind now, though, is what does Jones have prepared as an encore? It's unrealistic to expect the 28-year-old to repeat the home runs per at-bat ratio that he maintained during half a season last season. So refrain from predicting a 40-homer season, please.
But looking at his Minor League track record, a 20-plus home run season is certainly a reasonable expectation. Only once in his previous six seasons has Jones hit fewer than 21 long balls in a year, and the exception came in 2007, when he spent significant time sitting on the Twins' bench.
Jones' ability to adjust to pitchers last season have the Pirates particularly optimistic that Jones' breakout season was no three-month fluke.
"I think every player has to prove themselves every year," Jones said. "I'm just going to take the same approach that I did last year and come up and make adjustments all year. I think, right now, if I feel like I want to feel at the plate and just have consistency throughout the season that the numbers will take care of themselves."
In order to be a more formidable bat in the lineup, there are two specific areas where noticeable improvement must be made. In 101 at-bats against left-handed pitching, Jones hit just .208. That's not a particularly encouraging stat for someone pegged to play every day.
His .152 batting average with runners in scoring position also concerned some. He drove in 44 runs in 82 games, but only 17 of those RBIs weren't a result of a home run. In contrast, Jones hit .333 with the bases empty.
"That's something I've always taken a lot of pride in," Jones said. "I think I had a couple times where I didn't get the job done, and I got a little frustrated and started thinking about it a little more. It's just needing to go up there and have a good at-bat and not worrying about that. I know more what to do this year and more what to expect."
Still, there's no denying that 2010 is a big year for Jones. An offense that was at times anemic last year certainly needs him. Just as important is Jones' need to prove to everyone -- himself included -- that he indeed is ready to stay.
"I was in the Minors so long, but you know, I wouldn't have done it any other way," he said. "I feel like I needed that time. That experience -- going through tough times and failure and the ups and downs -- definitely helped. It definitely prepared me for where I'm at today and where I want to be in the future.
"To get this opportunity was meant to be. This was how it was supposed to be for me."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.