I love narratives. I do. I know it's wrong in forward-thinking baseball circles as the word "narrative" is often associated with nonsensical tropes like "lineup protection," but there are good ones, fun stories—and though they may be just as nonsensical—I enjoy following them.
A big one I've ascribed to as of late is that, in spring training, there's bound to be at least one minor leaguer who comes into camp and impresses. It may, and probably won't be, enough to earn him a spot on the major league roster because he started too far back but when they do eventually make the trip up I-5 from Tacoma, we'll look back fondly on spring—when he fully entered our collective conscious.
It's the Brad Miller route, basically. Beyond the dingers, Miller was the talk of spring last year, staying with the club as long as he possibly could, all the way through the trip to Salt Lake City. He actually beat Casper Wells by a game in that regard.
So starting off there, with high socks and hustle, we move onto this year's subject: outfielder James Jones. And as I said, I enjoy the narratives, the idea that a guy with a low profile could come into camp make himself known. Diehards knew who Miller was before spring training last year, but most Mariners fans didn't, as he sat down at #9 in Baseball America's Top 10 Mariners prospects for 2013.
The same is true for Jones, who starts even further back, not in anyone's top prospects rankings. In Baseball America's 2014 Top 10, Jones only appears as having the Mariners' best outfield arm.
Now, after 7 appearances so far this spring, he carries a considerably higher profile. Through the first few games, it was a name I saw pop up repeatedly, but the moment it really registered—that Jones could be this year's Miller-esque story for the spring—was when this floated down my Mariners Twitter list:
It wasn't anything outstanding, as Jamey Wright was almost entirely to blame, but it's the reason why managers love having a guy like James Jones on the base paths.
And speaking of manager love, here's what Lloyd McClendon had to say on Jones yesterday, courtesy of Ryan Divish in the Seattle Times.
"He’s a very talented young man," McClendon said. "I told somebody the other day, ‘I don’t think he’s just going to knock on the door, he’s going to knock the door down when he’s ready to get there. He’s a pretty interesting young man. I’ve liked what I’ve seen."
And while this may not be the proverbial door kick to which Lloyd is referring, it's been impressive nonetheless. He's gone 5-for-15 with a home run, driving in four and playing a strong center field.
And before I go much further, let me say this isn't going to be any kind of analytical breakdown, and I won't lobby for anything, just publicly share what I've come across in trying to find out more about Jones.
Now, to start—gifs. Visually, here are all the highlights of Jones' spring to this point. There are only four, but that's all we have.
And because what's here is surely lacking, I invite you to enjoy Jones' highlights from his time with the Jackson Generals last year.
A couple pulls from there:
James Jones had a nice .275/.347/.419 triple slash in 101 games for Jackson last year, good for a 123 wRC+ before getting a quick four-game look with Tacoma.
But for those wanting to know a little more about who Jones is, as I did, here's some off-the-field stuff from Jackson Generals broadcaster Chris Harris, who's doing yeoman's work down there in producing a bunch of extra media. Also, what a radio voice.
First, a video interview:
As Jones and Harris discuss in that video, Jones is from Brooklyn. He was chosen by the Mariners as a 4th-rounder in the 2009 draft out of Long Island University.
And as I build him up to all those who are unfamiliar, here's one fact that may dim things slightly for you. He's 25. That' however, does come with a catch: he didn't start being a full-time position player until he was drafted by the Mariners. Here's what M's Scouting Director Tom McNamara told Larry Stone at the time:
"Trust me, even though there was just one team ahead of us, I had two names for that pick, because I thought he might be the first one taken today," said Tom McNamara, the Mariners' scouting director. "I was wrong, and very happy about it. We're ecstatic to get him."[...]
"I don't want to build him up too much, but we feel his better days are ahead of him," said McNamara. "We want to sign him and let him go play."
So the story is still one of Jones as a developing player. But as his spring training performance is starting to hint at, the fruits of that development may not be far off for the Mariners. But to close this out, I want to peak back further instead of wishfully looking ahead. Because the stories reported by Seattle Met's Matthew Halverson are just too good. From a 2009 article, back around the time of the draft:
Last summer, Jones played for the Waterloo Bucks, a summer-league team in Iowa, and as Craig Noto tells it, Jones stood flat-footed at home plate before a game and — in one of those chest-thumping, manhood-measuring exhibitions of machismo — fired a rocket over the wall in center. Which was 370 feet away. (Just to put that into perspective, Dave Niehaus would probably lose his mind if Ichiro threw out a runner at third from deep right field.) Impossible, right? So I called Noto this morning to confirm the fish tale. "Yeah, he did it," he said in a wise-guy Brooklyn accent. (When I asked if Jones actually did it flat-footed, Noto’s response was, "It’s almost 400 feet. Let me ask ya, if he took a hop or stood flat-footed, does it really matter?") And then he went on: "But I got an even better one for you."
A year earlier, when Jones was just a sophomore, he and some of his LIU teammates were "jazzing around" before a game at KeySpan Park at Coney Island, throwing down "I bet you can’t …" challenges. Tired of all the talk, Jones grabbed a ball, walked up to the plate, and threw a frozen rope over the wall in center. Which was 412 feet away. "Guys were just like, ‘Come on, that’s not possible. Did he really just do that?’" says Noto (who also reports that Jones is known for his spontaneous bursts of song and dance in the dugout). "That’s the kind of response that J.J. would typically get from people when he would do things."
Ridiculously, Halverson has a James Jones story even better than that.
And if it's James Jones stories that interest you, there are so many more, with a big thanks to LIU for putting them all together.
I don't know what James Jones is going to be. He might be just another cog in the machine that is any baseball team's minor league system. Or maybe he does kick down that door this year, and is roaming the vast expanses that Guti and Mike Cameron did sooner than anyone could imagine.
Again, I don't know—but I'm going to enjoy watching. Because, right now, it's impossible to not.