Adam Jones to the Majors
Ladies and Gentleman, your new starting centerfielder, Adam Jones.
The Mariners have been hyper-aggressive with promoting their prospects this year. There isn’t another club in the majors who is moving their young players through the system as quickly as the Mariners are. This move is a continuation of that philosophy – as soon as a player has shown that he is no longer struggling at a level, he is challenged with a promotion.
Adam Jones, for the last 6 weeks, has shown that he is no longer struggling at Triple-A. His splits by month:
April: .268/.286/.512, 82 AB, 22 H, 3 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 1 BB, 20 K
May: .208/.263/.368, 106 AB, 22 H, 4 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 8 BB, 23 K
June: .342/.405/.482, 114 AB, 39 H, 7 2B, 3 HR, 11 BB, 23 K
July: .308/.419/.692, 26 AB, 8 H, 1 2B, 3 HR, 5 BB, 1 K
The improvement the last six weeks jumps off the page. It’s most obvious in BB/K ratio, but it shows up across the board. He was striking out in nearly out of every four at-bats to start the year but cut that to one in six last month. His one strikeout in 26 at-bats so far in July, while a tiny sample, is pretty amazing, and a pretty blatant display of improvement.
For the last 140 at-bats, Adam Jones has been a monster in Triple-A. If that performance reflects his new true talent level, than he’s ready for the majors, and he could come up and be this year’s Jeff Francoeur.
However, there’s no way to know if that 140 at-bat sample is reflective of his current abilities with the bat. Scouts can help us, we can take some guesses, and we can hope, but in a sample that small, anyone can hit extremely well. Drawing any kind of firm conclusion from 140 at-bats that goes directly counter to the proceding 180 at-bats is unwise.
We can hope that Adam Jones turned a corner at the beginning of June, and this isn’t just a hot streak. Positive scouting reports are certainly encouraging, and the fact that he cleary has significant talent is also in his favor. But no one, not Bill Bavasi, not you or I, actually knows if Adam Jones has permanently implemented the things that have caused his run since June 1st into his repertoire, or if they’re going to dissipate the moment he sees a major league curveball.
From everyone I’ve talked to, Adam Jones has been killing fastballs in Triple-A, but still struggles mightily with anything offspeed. He’s done much better at no longer chasing that pitch, because he’s learning he can wait for something better, but he has not yet learned how to actually hit the pitch with any regularity. If he starts seeing a steady diet of breaking balls in the strike zone, he could be in trouble, because his current approach of crush-fastballs-and-lay-off-breaking-balls is rendered moot.
There’s also the matter of defense. He’s been playing center field for less than a year. While he has all kinds of physical skills, he’s still a raw defender. He still makes poor reads at times, gets bad jumps on balls, and runs inefficient routes to the ball. His athleticism will help him become a good defender in time, but he’s not there yet.
Almost every player with Jones’ skillset who has been called up to the majors has struggled, sometimes for several years. It is rare for a player with Jones’ offensive skillset to come up and dominate immediately. It’s certainly possible, as Jeff Francoeur showed last year, but Francoeur hasn’t been able to sustain his success from last year, and just like ’05 Francoeur is a possibility, so is ’06 Francoeur.
Adam Jones could be the answer in center field. It’s possible. But it’s also quite possible that he spends the first three months of his major league career getting intimidated by Safeco Field, staring at major league breaking balls for strike three, and having his confidence beaten down by an early promotion. The club could have left him in Tacoma, let him continue to learn and develop against Triple-A pitching with little pressure, and evaluated him in a context where he was playing against his peers.
Now? He’s been thrust into the middle of a pennant race and asked to learn to hit major league pitching in one of the toughest major league parks for a right-handed hitter in baseball. The M’s love to challenge their prospects – they just may have challenged Adam Jones too quickly for his sake, and for the team’s sake.
He’s a heck of a talent. But he wouldn’t be the first talent who fell on his face due to being promoted too quickly.