Jones hush-hush on breakout season
O's center fielder more focused, diligent in second year
BALTIMORE -- Adam Jones doesn't have any answers. He knows that he's doing everything right, but he doesn't know why it's translating to a much different kind of success. Jones has gone from a modest rookie campaign to a breakout second season, and he doesn't like talking about it for fear it might evaporate.
Still, when you hit .358 through 30 games, people want to know what's different. And in Jones' mind, it's just a well-timed hot streak combined with diligence and a much greater attention to detail.
"I think everybody's jumping on the bandwagon, personally," Jones said recently. "Just let me play it out and not think about all of this stuff. Every other day, people ask me, 'Why are you doing good?'
"Just let me go out and keep doing what I'm doing, because, obviously, it's working. My work ethic is different. I have more of a routine, and I'm sticking to it no matter what. If I'm running late or something, my routine is there and I know how to prepare. Hopefully, I can just keep maintaining what I'm doing."
And if he can, the Orioles will have another star on their hands. Jones has blossomed in his second season, nestling between Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis in the batting order and providing another power threat. Jones already has six home runs, thanks to improved confidence and understanding of his surroundings.
Jones, who was acquired from Seattle as part of a five-player package for Erik Bedard, spent much of last season acclimating himself to his new teammates and to an everyday job. And right when he seemed to be settling in and getting comfortable, Jones broke his left foot and had to spend a month on the disabled list.
"He got his baptism under fire," said hitting coach Terry Crowley. "He made some mistakes, he learned from them and he's improved because of it. He learned some things last year that guys work out in [Class A] or Double-A. He was working them out in the Major Leagues and did a tremendous job. I know he would've had better stats -- a better batting average and a better everything -- if he didn't break his foot. The fact that he came back from a broken foot after missing five weeks and stepped right in and kept his good habits tells me that everything we did to take him to that point was ingrained in his batting style. He started this spring right where we left off."
Jones may have started strong in Spring Training, but he was aided by a choice he made in the offseason. The 23-year-old spent the winter working out at Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona and came to camp in fantastic shape, armed with a new diet and a new dedication to keeping himself in shape.
"I take care of my body a little bit better, because I'm getting older," he said. "But I'm still young. I could eat what I wanted if I felt like it, but I like to get my proper rest and not really be out doing too much. I have a job here to do, and my job is for nine innings -- or however many innings we play -- to come out and do the best I can. I think cutting down on bad habits away from the ballpark has helped me improve at the ballpark."
Jones credits both Crowley and first-base coach John Shelby for helping him sharpen his edges, and both coaches are known to be among his biggest supporters. Crowley, in fact, told various front office executives before the season that Jones was ready to start displaying more power and unlocking his potential.
Crowley was partly convinced by Jones' diligence in shortening his swing path and improving his pitch recognition, twin areas of emphasis honed by countless hours in the batting cage and video room. And the rest was just a gut feeling born out of working with Jones and sensing his ultimate trajectory.
"He seems like the same hitter with a little better results," said Crowley of Jones. "He still on occasion makes a mistake. We'll talk about it, but usually he knows now and he's mentioned it to me before I can mention it to him. We've been together long enough that he knows what I like to see him do at the plate. He knows what he wants to do. And I know one thing: He's fun to watch and he's fun to work with."
Somewhere down the line, Jones may profile as a cleanup hitter, a difference-maker with a unique combination of power and speed. Fow now, though, the Orioles like slotting him right between Roberts and Markakis, helping to set the table and perched in a spot where he's sure to see some fastballs.
"He's very receptive to instruction, but I still think he's got a higher ceiling," said manager Dave Trembley. "He's gotten some big hits when they've tried to come in on him. And I think they've tried to come in on him a lot. He's shown the ability to get his hands through. He's just really improved in all areas of his game and he plays with more confidence. He uses the whole field to hit and has become a pretty darned good two-strike hitter."
It's just the beginning for Jones, who was drafted by Seattle with the 37th overall selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. He's not a player you're likely to see out in dance clubs and he may not always seek attention, but Jones is driven by improving and by remembering who he is at the simplest level.
"Even though I play professional baseball, I'm as normal as it gets," he said. "I'm an inner-city dude. If you go down to the Inner Habor, there's a good chance you'll see me somewhere in the middle of the day. I'm inner-city, and I don't like to venture away from it. You guys go to the market, you go to the store, sometimes you want to eat there. I do the same things I did back home, so why would I change because I'm in the limelight?"
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.