Orioles' center fielder Adam Jones has a Gold Glove and one trip to the All-Star Game on his resume. He's regarded as one of the top defensive center fielders in baseball, but there's one part of his game he's targeting for improvement in 2012.
"Getting on base at a higher rate. The more I'm on base, the more I cause problems, the more I need to steal bags." Jones said.
Improving the Orioles' overall on-base percentage has been a main focus of Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, but Jones probably didn't need his new GM to point that out. An extremely analytical player, Jones knows his OBP has gradually dropped over the past three seasons going from .333 in 2009 to .310 in 2011.
"I just need to be on base more. Start taking the walks and just being a smarter baseball player," Jones said.
Jones' power numbers increased in 2011, adding six homers to his 2010 tally for a total of 25 home runs. The 26-year-old also posted career highs in RBIs (83), doubles (27), and slugging percentage (.466).
Jones feels his ceiling is much higher. Presumably batting third in the lineup, he'll have to find a way to drive in more runs this year, possibly without his favorite table-setter Brian Roberts leading off. No one knows if or when Roberts will be back on the field after suffering a second concussion last year.
"I told him, 'Man make sure you're right before you get on this field because I need you, but I don't need you that bad,' " Jones said.
Over the past two seasons, Jones has reluctantly adjusted to life without Roberts in the lineup. In 2011, he learned to take a different approach at the plate without one of the game's best base runners on the bags ahead of him.
"It's different having Roberts there because that's his role. He was one of the best leadoff hitters for a six-, seven-, eight-year span. Roberts, if he gets on second, he stole third within the first two pitches. All you had to do was put the ball in play to get an RBI." Jones said. "I had to learn how to pick up the RBI. You know, man in scoring position, just get the simple base hit to score him."
Now entering his fifth full season in the big leagues and seventh overall, Jones has made steps to becoming a smarter hitter. As a young player he was known to swing for the fences and struggled to hit breaking balls. A few years ago Jones realized there's more to hitting than going for the longball and, ironically, saw his power numbers improve.
"I just realized situations. They're not going to pump me fastballs to hit. Maybe pitch around me, maybe an open base, maybe try to get me out, swing at something I don't want to swing," Jones said. "Power numbers, that takes care of itself. If I'm just a smart hitter, get my pitch, wait for my pitch and go with it."
You can bet Jones is shooting for another All-Star appearance. It bothered him he wasn't selected to represent the O's in the 2011 Midsummer Classic, but Jones wants to win above and beyond any personal accolade. His frustration at the Orioles' losing ways has been evident in the clubhouse the past several years.
I'm wondering, like many of you, if Adam Jones will be an Oriole beyond 2013 when he becomes a free agent. The O's haven't locked him up with a long-term deal like they did Nick Markakis. The question is: If they offered him a deal, would he accept? Even more so, have they ever asked Jones if he'd be interested?
I'll have more on that in my next blog. Stay tuned.