Change of Scenery is Great for Pirates Garrett Jones
by, 06-19-2012 at 01:09 PM (1345 Views)
A look at the Pirates stat page, and you canít help but ask how they are doing it. Andrew McCutchen is hitting .325/.382/.541 (.923) with 11 doubles, three triple and 11 home runs. He also has 13 stolen bases, and is one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball. No other Pirates hitter is batting over. 271. No other Pirates hitter has an OPS higher than .734.
That hitter with a .734 OPS is a name that should be familiar to Twins fans. Garrett Jones is an everyday player and yet he hasnít played the most innings for them at 1B or Right Field. In his four years with the Pirates, he has hit .256/.321/.457 (.769) with 94 doubles, four triples, 65 homers and 210 RBI. As a Super-2 arbitration-eligible player this offseason, he is playing for $2.25 million in 2012.
Itís been a remarkable four-year run for Jones considering how his professional career began. The 6-4, 230 pound first baseman was drafted in the 14th round of the 1999 draft by the Atlanta Braves. He spent a year in the GCL. He then spent two seasons in the Appalachian League, playing in Danville. At the end of the 2001 season, the Braves released him.
Someone in the Twins organization saw something in him (and I have a guess it would be his great size and power potential!) and the Twins signed him early in the 2002 season.
Even then, it isnít as though he had success. In 2002, he played for Quad Cities in the Midwest League. In 63 games, he hit just .202/.238/.372 (.610), but he did have eight doubles and ten home runs. He moved up to Ft. Myers in 2003, and although he hit just .220/.280/.408 (.688), he had 12 doubles, five triples and 18 home runs. He started the 2004 season in Ft. Myers again and despite unimpressive numbers in 19 games, he was promoted to AA New Britain.
And thatís where his career took off. As a 23 year old, in 122 games, he hit .311/.356/.593 (.949) with 33 doubles, two triples and 30 home runs. He also stole ten bases. In reality, only a few Twins minor leaguers have come close to replicating those numbers in New Britain.
Suddenly he was on peopleís radars. He moved up to Rochester in 2005 and in 133 games, he hit .246/.299/.448 (.747) with 22 doubles, two triples and 24 home runs. He returned to the Red Wings in 2006 and hit .238/.302/.430 (.733) with 32 doubles, three triples and 21 home runs.
In 2007, he hit .280/.334/.473 (.807) with 32 doubles, three triples and 13 home runs. He also made his major league debut in 2007 and in 31 games with the Twins, he hit .208/.262/.338 (.600) with two doubles, a triple and two home runs. He played some at first base, and some in the corner outfield spots. He did a good job of showing that his best position was clearly DH.
He returned to the Red Wings in 2008 and hit .279/.337/.484 (.821) with 33 doubles, three triples and 23 homers. Following the season, the Twins allowed him to become a free agent.
Why did he not really get an opportunity with the Twins? Think about he positions that he plays. First base was covered by an MVP caliber player in Justin Morneau. Jason Kubel was the Designated Hitter, and Joe Mauer got occasional at bats there too. Michael Cuddyer was in right field with Kubel getting time there. Delmon Young had just come to the Twins in a trade with the Rays. Although he disappointed, at the time, he was still considered a future right-handed power bat.
Frankly, there wasnít a spot for Garrett Jones. It is an actual case of someone just needing a change of scenery. The Twins gave Jones the opportunity to improve himself as player and prove his power, but in order to get a real shot at a big league gig, he needed to go elsewhere.
I recall when I heard that he had signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I thought it was a great opportunity for him. He could get some time at first base and in the outfield. With his doubles and home run history, playing in a small ballpark, he could put up some numbers too.
Early in the 2009 season, he came up to the Pirates and played in 82 games. He played well enough that he received Rookie of the Year votes. He hit .293/.372/.567 (.938) with 21 doubles, a triple and 21 home runs. He had several two-homer games, and in general, surprised a lot of experts.
He came into the 2010 season knowing he was a big league starter, and he played in 158 games. He hit .247/.306/.414 (.720) with 34 doubles, a triple and 21 homers. In 2011, he played 148 games and hit .243/.321/.433 (.753) with 30 doubles, a triple and 16 home runs. In 53 games this year, he is hitting .253/.273/.461 (.734) with nine doubles, a triple and seven home runs.
Clearly he came to the NL and surprised a lot of people with a great performance. Clearly, there has been an adjustment made to him and he has proven to be a pretty average player overall. But for me, as a guy who has followed the Twins minor leagues since 2004, I canít be more happy for a guy who put in a lot of work and a lot of time to try to reach a dream. He got a small chance with the Twins as a 26 year old, and then as a 28 year old, he got a better chance with the Pirates and took advantage of it. He took that strong 2009 season and has turned it into a pretty decent little career in Pittsburgh.
Jones will turn 31 years old during this series. He has three years left of arbitration, although itís hard to imagine that he would be tendered another contract by the Pirates if it means heíll make $4 million or more.
Jones is another reminder of how patient we need to be with minor leaguers, especially those drafted out of high school.
Itís a great story of not giving up and continuing to work. Iíll continue to root for him to succeed. Just probably not so much over the next three days!