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What do the Mariners have in James Jones?

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Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

We've reached the doldrums of the offseason. The Mariners have made most of their major acquisitions and now all that's left is minor moves for depth and waiting for pitchers and catchers to report. To try and spark a topic to write about, I was perusing the Mariners depth charts on FanGraphs. I've examined this page countless times but, this time, one name jumped out at me for some reason -- James Jones.

Many of us wrote off Jones after his disappointing stint as the starting center fielder last year. And with good reason, too -- he was miserable. His negative WAR total should be enough to convince anyone that Jones isn't a major league-ready player at this point in his career. He turned 26 at the end of last season and is probably ticketed for Triple-A to start the 2015 season.

Still, I started thinking about some other outfielders who might be a decent comp for Jones. I wanted to try and figure out what the Mariners could possibly have in James Jones.

First, some history. A pitcher in college, Jones was drafted in the fourth round in the 2009 amateur draft as an outfielder. Scouts praised him for his incredible arm strength and toolsy, athletic build.  He had some raw talent that many thought could develop into real strengths. He moved fairly quickly through the system, repeating a level just twice -- High-A (2011-2012) and Triple-A (2013-2014). In the minors, he flashed a bit more power giving his bat more value than what was displayed in the majors last year. He also showed an ability to get on base with a minor league walk rate around 10%.

The power and plate discipline all but disappeared in his brief time in the majors. His ISO was a paltry .061 and his walk rate a minuscule 3.7%. He was also playing out of position -- he spent the majority of his time in the minors in right field where his shotgun arm plays up. Given his minor league track record, I think the James Jones we saw last year is not the same James Jones that could be down the road. He's probably not good enough to be a major league regular but I think he could be good enough to be an excellent fourth outfielder and spot starter at all three outfield positions.

To get an idea of what James Jones could develop into, I combed through the FanGraph leaderboards looking for players who have averaged 4-8 base running runs (BsR) per year with a wRC+ below 90 over the last five years. I was also looking for players who weren't starters so players like Juan Pierre and Ben Revere were tossed out. My search came up with four names. The table below lists their yearly averages over the last five years.

Name

PA/yr

K%

BB%

wRC+

SB/yr

BsR/yr

Fld/yr

WAR/yr

Jarrod Dyson

195

18.7%

8.8%

83

24

4.5

7.1

1.6

Rajai Davis

417

17.2%

5.0%

88

42

7.0

-6.4

0.7

Eric Young

306

17.1%

8.2%

78

27

4.7

1.3

0.6

Tony Gwynn Jr.

271

17.2%

8.8%

67

14

1.6

6.0

0.5

James Jones

328

20.4%

3.7%

68

27

4.2

-12.6

-1.0

None of the players above are world-beaters but each of them is useful in one way or another. The first name on the list is probably the dream scenario. Jarrod Dyson is an elite defender and constant threat on the basepaths. In 109 games (66 starts) last year, he was worth 3.1 WAR. That's pretty incredible for a part-time player. There's probably no way Jones' develops into a player on Dyson's level.

The next three names might be a more realistic comp for Jones. In fact, Rajai Davis might be the perfect match. An excellent baserunner, Davis also sports enough power to provide a tiny amount of value with his bat. He's also a pretty average fielder, something that I feel comfortable calling Jones, especially if he's playing in one of the corners. Davis has bounced around as a fourth outfielder who can be called on to start if necessary. He'd be the best-case scenario for Jones.

Young and Gwynn fit the same mold, excellent baserunners without a bat who can play anywhere in the outfield without embarrassing themselves. However, they're more fourth outfielders who shouldn't be starting at all. This might be the most realistic outcome for Jones if he continues to develop.

This exercise is obviously pretty optimistic regarding James Jones' abilities and pure speculation about how he'll develop as a ballplayer. It's entirely possible that he doesn't develop any other useful skills and will go down with Luis Ugueto and Charles Gipson as speedy outfielders who never panned out. But, if he does figure out how to hit the occasional home run and take a walk at a decent clip, James Jones could be a cheap, useful piece of depth for the Mariners. That's not a bad thing to have lying around in Triple-A.