It's about time we finally got a Rainier interview knocked out. After speaking with Rafael Chaves, Justin Leone, Chris Snelling, Clint Nageotte and Jesse Foppert last season, we wanted to speak with someone you haven't heard from a whole lot and was still a significant piece of the Seattle future. Meet Adam Jones.
If you want to hear a lot (and I mean a lot) of Adam Jones' voice, here's the audio from our little chat. If you'd like to read the transcript, click the "Read More" link below.
Lookout Landing: All right, we're here today with Adam Jones and this begins the 2006 series of Rainier interviews. First of all, I'd just like to say thank you Adam for taking the time to talk to us about this season.
Lately, you've been in a bit of a slump, but just yesterday you hit a bases-clearing triple that ended up being the difference in the game. If you could, walk us through that at-bat and what you were trying to do.
Adam Jones: Well, it wasn't really that I was trying to do too much. Just put a good swing and get a good pitch to hit in that situation because I know that pitcher, Asahina. He wants to get ahead with a first pitch strike, that's the kind of pitcher he is. Personally, I was looking for something away and it was just a hanging curveball that just stayed up and I just put a good swing on it.
LL: In general, have you been pleased with how your season has gone so far?
AJ: At times. I'm happy with my defense because it continues to improve. Hitting - there's always woes about that. I just keep working hard everyday and I try not to let too much get to me. I'm in the cages with Terry Pollreisz, our hitting coach, just keep working on things.
LL: Based on your first two months here, what have you found to be the biggest difference between AA and AAA ball?
AJ: One big difference is everybody makes adjustments that much quicker. You know, if a pitcher is getting hit a little bit he'll make an adjustment. A pitcher can make the same adjustment also [if a hitter changes his approach]. So, if you make an adjustment, he'll make the adjustment and still get you out. Still, it's no different baseball. Nobody throws harder or anything like that, it's just that they're smarter. Pitchers are mostly a little bit older, little bit smarter, and most of them have big league time. So, if they can get big league hitters out, they sure can get AAA hitters out. So, really, it's just adjustments.
LL: So, despite not throwing harder or with a better break on the ball, they're smarter and they know what to throw in certain situations which might throw you off a little bit.
AJ: Yeah, they don't give in. Even the harder throwers, they'll still come at you with off-speed stuff. You just sit there and be like "why would he throw you three sliders when he can throw in the mid-90's?" Because they know you can probably hit that mid-90's fastball.
LL: The numbers seem to suggest that a year ago you didn't have any trouble after being promoted from Inland Empire to San Antonio. Why do you think you were able to make such a successful adjustment when so many others have failed making the jump from A to AA, which is considered the hardest level in the minors?
AJ: I had a free mind and wasn't thinking about nothing. I just went out there and had fun everyday. Just like every hitter can tell you, when they go out and have fun everyday, it makes it that much easier. But when they go out there and press and try to do too much, it makes it that much harder. When I first went up to AA, I was batting 7th or 8th and in that spot there's no pressure on me to drive in runs and I was able to build a whole bunch of confidence in the first couple series I played there. I moved up in the lineup a little bit and ended up batting second and I had a lot of confidence and made it that much easier.
LL: You've been climbing the ladder pretty quickly after being drafted three years ago. Does it ever get overwhelming, or do you think being pushed that hard has worked to your benefit?
AJ: It's worked to my benefit. I liked to be pushed hard, don't like to be satisfied with nothing. I like that fact that they want to continuously challenge me. It says a lot about me or how they think about me as a person who wants to be pushed. I take it all in stride, even if they say I need to do this, even constructive criticism - I understand that greatly and I don't mind it because everybody needs it. Some people don't take it as well as others and that's just life. You know, I don't mind it because I learn a lot from it. Especially people older and have been there, I don't mind taking criticism from them.
LL: How much credit do you give to [Jones' HS coach] Josh Glassey for preparing you to deal with the pressure of being a high draft pick and a minor league baseball player as a teenager?
AJ: He's been great. I still talk to him about it. He played in AAA and I know he played here for a few years. He was close to the bigs, but you know, his bat didn't come along as well as they hoped. I talk to him on a consistent basis, just about the life, off-the-field things, what they look for, being smart in situations and the league. He played in the PCL also and [we talk] about certain pitchers he faced that I'm facing now. It's overwhelming that guys I watched on TV in high school, I've faced some of them this year and it's pretty neat.
LL: Coming out of high school you were both a talented shortstop and hard-throwing pitcher. Has dropping the pitching side of things allowed you to focus more on developing your offense?
AJ: Oh, yeah, definitely. I don't think about pitching at all and I don't care about it, it means nothing to me. I told Frank Mattox that if I couldn't hit for nothing, just throw me on the mound, I got a good arm, see what I got - I don't mind that. I think nothing about that, it's the furthest thing from my mind.
LL: The first year you were in the Mariners system, you struggled at the plate. Did you ever think about maybe asking to pitch or bring out the arm to try it out?
AJ: No, never, definitely not. I had an all right year, I hit .260 or .270 or whatever. [.267/.314/.404] Midwest League isn't the easiest thing, it isn't an easy league and it was my first full year and playing series against pitchers, getting to know pitchers and getting a little bit of a scouting report on them. Then I faced them in high-A and did good against them and then faced the same pitchers in AA. It was tough switching to a wood bat. I used a wood bat in high school summer leagues. It was a little different using it everyday and getting good wood compared high school wood they supplied you, which was pretty crappy.
LL: Over the past several months, you've been adapting to a new position in centerfield. Has that been a smooth adjustment for you, or did you bat have to take a back seat for a little while as you got more familiar playing the outfield?
AJ: In Fall League, that's when I really started, I felt my bat did have to take a back seat. At the plate I didn't have that good of a Fall League. To me, I had some good at-bats but I concentrated a lot on my defense because that was the biggest reason why I was going there. I know also it was to face some good pitchers, but to me that was the biggest reason I went to Fall League. I tried to develop my defense there as good as possible working with Gary Pettis, the coach for Nashville. He helped me a great deal and then the offseason I was working on my footwork and angles. And spring training, I came early like I always do, and [I was getting] repetitions. You can hit as many fungoes as you want but the best thing I found was that in BP I concentrated best just trying to run balls down. Even the balls that them big boys like Sexson, Beltre, Ibanez and Everett, even the balls they hit, I try to run them down and make it look easy. Jeremy Reed helped me out a good deal, we talked a lot about defense, positioning, running your routes and all that stuff. I'm feeling really comfortable out there right now and I try to make it look as easy as possible. Some of the balls are tough, you know? Sinking liners, balls straight at you or straight overhead, you don't know if they're going to go down or keep going. There's still stuff I have to do, still tons of work. I'm going to continue to do that everyday and keep working at it.
LL: What's it like out there, anyway? I mean, it seems like it's the perfect place for you since you can cover so much ground, but do you ever miss the constant action of covering shortstop?
AJ: Oh, definitely. I see there are balls that are hit hard and I'll just be like "oh, I could have dove for that and made a nice play." I'm not knocking our shortstop, I understand the reasoning why I moved to centerfield and our shortstop Cabrera is a very good shortstop. I understand the move, I think about it sometimes, but it's not one thing that's always on my mind. I don't mind where I'm at. I definitely don't mind it.
LL: While defense is important, it's probably going to be your bat that carries you to the Majors. You really blossomed offensively last year with the 66ers and Missions. What was it that contributed most to your rapid development? Was it a matter of you getting more comfortable at the plate?
AJ: Well, one thing I remember is what Henry Cotto told me, and I'm sure other hitting coaches have told me this, but he told me "don't try to do too much, you can't hit a three-run homerun with nobody on." When he told me that, I just fell into a groove and just tried to square the ball up and not hit any ball five miles. I did what I do to get on base and everything did good for itself.
LL: You're a guy who generally goes up there looking to drill the first good pitch you see. Do you find that pitchers make more mistakes earlier in the count, or is it you trying to keep from falling behind 0-1 or 0-2?
AJ: Personally, I don't mind hitting with two strikes - you're going to strikeout. That's one thing the Mariners wanted me to cut down on but you're going to strikeout. I'm getting better at fighting with two strikes, fighting the pitchers and trying to put the ball in play because I can run. If I put the ball in play, I give myself more opportunity. Generally, a lot of older pitchers want to get ahead with strike one being a fastball away or the get-me-over curveball they have. I know they have a get-me-over and a strikeout curveball. When they throw that, I just try to key in on it. I know there have been a few first pitches I've missed, grounded out, popped up, but the ones I remember are the first pitches I've smoked. That's really what I try to do with the first pitch. I like it, it's a good pitch, a lot of our hitters love it. I know Shin-soo Choo loves the first pitch of the game because you know they're not going to throw the first pitch offspeed often. First pitch is a good pitch to hit, and even if you get out, if you don't square it up you're gonna be frustrated with yourself because you'll feel you wasted an at-bat.
LL: You've struggled with two things early this year. One is hitting at home and the other hitting off lefties. Cheney's a big place, a good pitcher's park and hurts a lot of guys so that's nothing out of the ordinary. The issue with lefties is a little bit more surprising. Have you had a bit of trouble picking up the ball out of their hand so far or is it something else?
AJ: In the past, I've loved lefties. I didn't know I wasn't doing that good against them. I feel this year I'm pulling the ball a whole lot more than I have been. Last year and the year before, off lefties I did good because I wouldn't mind taking that single into right. I don't know why I'm pulling the ball - maybe I'm more mature as a hitter, maybe I'm a little bit stronger, maybe I see it early and my reaction is better. I don't know why I'm not hitting them as good as I should. As for hitting at home, in high school and A-ball and everywhere, I just like that at home is that much more pressure for me to succeed because I'm a high pick or everyone's eyeing me because I'm a top prospect, not be cocky or nothing. I just like hitting on the road better. Usually on the road you get the fans that just want to heckle you and talk stuff and nothing is a better feeling than throwing it all right in their face. I like hitting on the road just a little bit better.
LL: Up in Seattle, Jeremy Reed has been the subject of a few trade rumors and he's had a lot of trouble hitting the ball with much authority off quality arms. Be honest here - how often do you find yourself thinking about the situation up there both in terms of how you could help now and how you could help down the road?
AJ: I really don't think about that because the second I think about anything not going on with me right now, my mind strays from what's going on in front of me. Reed's a good player and I worked with him a lot this spring and the big leagues are tough. Nobody goes up there and hits .400 or like Pujols and Bonds, what they've been doing. I don't know what's wrong with them. They're just that good because they do the same thing every single time. I know he [Reed] is working on stuff and as a hitter, if something isn't going right, you're going to try to do something different. I know I've found myself doing something like that many times. I can't speak for him, I don't know what's going on, but I wish him the best. He's a good guy and a hard worker. I'm pretty sure he's going to turn stuff around and hit how he did in the minor leagues because the guy can hit.
LL: We've established that you have a good working relationship with Jeremy Reed as he's helped you both in the field and at the plate. Is there anybody else in the minors or Majors that's given you a significant improvement in your game or you listen to their advice more than anybody else?
AJ: Well, the biggest guy is Mark McLemore. I actually talked with him today and I talk to him once every couple weeks, you know, just to check in on him and he checks in on me to see how things are going. He always gives me a little bit advice every time and something off the wall that just keeps me thinking and keeps me loose. I listen to everything he has to say because he spent 17-18 years in the bigs and that's almost as long as I've been alive. He's a very, very knowledgeable man and he knows what's going on and had a pretty good career. Anybody with those kind of credentials, I'll definitely listen to. It's great that I have that good of a relationship with him that I can call him anytime and pick his brain.
LL: A bit of self-assessment: Which areas of your game do you think need the most improvement before you're ready to move up to the highest level?
AJ: Hitting. You know, hitting and defense. Everything. Because, in the big leagues, if the ball is hit in the outfield and it doesn't get out, you're required to catch it unless it's absolutely smoked. If I get called up, if I ever do, I'm not going to try to do too much, I'm just going to play my game. I'm going to be very nervous and have all the jitters. But to be called up I think I need to improve everything: hitting, two-strike hitting, hitting with runners in scoring position and moving them over, driving the ball 2-0 and 3-1, first pitches, situational defense, when to throw, when not to throw, throwing to the right base and hitting the cutoff, stealing bases, getting good jumps, reading the pitcher, knowing the pitcher - my whole game needs to improve. Right now, to me, nothing is big league about me except probably my hustle because I always give a good effort.
LL: Give us a quick rundown of your goals for the rest of this 2006 season.
AJ: I don't necessarily have numbers goals or something like that. My goal is a team goal and that's for the team to win it all. For me, to play hard every time, leave it on the field and make sure I don't get myself cheated. When I get myself cheated and give away stuff that's when I'm most frustrated. If I go 0-4 with 4 strikeouts but I know I had four good at-bats, I can't do nothing about that. If I go 0-4 with 4 strikeouts and wasted four at-bats I'm going to be very, very angry.
LL: Last question here - true or false. Adam Jones will be playing Major League baseball in 2007.
AJ: It's not up to me, it's up to the Seattle Mariners. To me, that's one question I can't answer.
LL: You'd like it to be true, though.
AJ: I'd love it to be true. I'd love it to be true in '06. I guess it depends on how I do this year and whatever they do in Seattle. I'm sure it would take a couple different scenarios to go in the right way for that to happen.
LL: All right, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today and we're all pulling for you so good luck with the rest of the season.
AJ: Thank you, I appreciate it.