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Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Adam “Not Pac Man” Jones made a big step forward in his big league career in 2009. The 24-year-old put up an excellent season for a center fielder, with a .277/.335/.457 triple-slash line on the year, up from a .270/.311/.400 year in 2008. A great improvement for the young player, and there is both cause for excitement and concern for Jones going forward.
Drafted 37th overall out of Morse High School in 2003 by the Seattle Mariners, Jones got started quickly, registering 123 at-bats that season as a 17-year-old between rookie and A-ball. Young Adam showed well there, with a .284/.368/.349 line in 124 rookie-ball plate appearances, with a .462/.467/.538 nightcap in 14 plate appearances at Low-A Everett.
Jones moved up to the Midwest League for 2004 as an 18-year-old and acquitted himself well. In 548 plate appearances in A-ball, Jones hit 11 home runs to go along with eight stolen bases. His plate discipline was not up to par, however, with 33 walks against 124 strikeouts leading to a .267/.314/.404 line. Still, Jones’ youth and excellent raw tools made him a gem in the Seattle organization, as he was ranked their ninth-best prospect at the end of the season. As a result, he was moved to High-A to begin 2005.
Opening his age-19 season, Jones started the year at Inland Empire of the California League, where he hit .295/.374/.494 in 271 at-bats including eight home runs. Jones’ plate discipline started showing some signs of improvement, as he posted nearly a 1:2 BB:K ratio with 29 walks against 64 strikeouts. His power began to show some real promise as well, as he hit eight home runs before being moved up to Double-A San Antonio. There, he hit seven home runs in 228 at-bats with 22 walks against 48 strikeouts on his way to a .298/.365/.461 line. On the shoulders of burgeoning power potential and improved plate discipline, Jones ranked as the eighth-best prospect in the Seattle system. His star rising, Jones was ticketed for Triple-A for 2006.
As a 20-year-old at Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League, Jones showed all the Seattle faithful what all the fuss was about. In 380 at-bats, the young center fielder hit 16 long balls to go along with 13 stolen bases. His plate discipline was a struggle once again, with just 28 walks against 78 strikeouts. However, his .287/.345/.484 line meant that all was forgiven and he was afforded a 32-game stint in the bigs. He flopped in this initial showing, striking out 22 times in 74 at-bats with just two walks. His .216/.237/.311 confirmed that he was not yet ready for the big time. Still, Jones came a long way over the course of the season and placed as Seattle’s second-best prospect and the 64th-best in MLB.
Repeating Triple-A in 2007, Jones had quite the breakout season. Through 420 at-bats, Jones planted 25 bombs into Tacoma stands on his way to a .314/.382/.586 line. His plate discipline was, again, subpar, with a 36:106 BB:K ratio. However, the raw tools and power proved irresistible and Jones was promoted to the big club again. Again, like in 2006, Jones flopped in his short showing, striking out 21 times in 65 at-bats against just four walks. However, the explosion at Tacoma significantly lifted his stock as Jones placed as Seattle’s best prospect and 28th-best in MLB. Despite the improvements, however, Jones was forced to switch organizations after a trade to Baltimore in February, where he would begin 2008 as the team’s starting center fielder.
In 2008, Jones finally found his form at the major league level. He finally got his strikeout rates under control. After two seasons of K-rates around 30 percent, Jones dropped the rate to 22.6. His overall line was acceptable, though disappointing, at .270/.311/.400. Still, his power did not carry over from 2007, as he hit just nine home runs in 477 at-bats to finish with a paltry 6.9 HR/FB percentage. His plate discipline was again poor, with 23 walks against 108 strikeouts. Still young at 23, but now in his second organization, Jones was beginning to get a whiff of unfulfilled expectations. Still, Baltimore was a great training grounds, as unfulfilled expectations were nothing new there.
Officially on the former prospect clock, Jones needed to deliver on promise in 2009 to reaffirm his prospect star—and deliver he did. For the 2009 season, Jones posted a .277/.335/.457 line with 19 home runs, including a blistering April and May that included 11 home runs in 183 at-bats. But that was about it for Jones, as he only posted one month of a .700+ OPS the rest of the season. Jones’ second-half line was particularly concerning, totaling .222/.290/.405.
Jones’ 2009 season, while showing great improvement over his previous performances, tells the tale of a player with tremendous potential who is still a bit overmatched at the plate.
In the plus column, Jones again cut down his strikeout rate from 22.6 percent in 2008 to 19.7 percent in 2009. Crossing the 20 percent threshold is a nice milestone for Jones, especially given that he struck out in 32.3 percent of his 2007 at-bats. In addition, his walk percentage rose to 7.1 percent, which is another great improvement for a batter who struggled so mightily just two seasons ago.
Despite the good-but-not-great home run totals on 2009, Jones really broke out in a big way with the power numbers, posting a 17.8 HR/FB rate—which is in the neighborhood of such luminaries as Mark Teixeira (17.8 HR/FB rate) and Evan Longoria (17.6 HR/FB rate). It’s hard not to be optimistic about a player who is in that kind of company. Further, his 5.6 IFFB percentage showed that he was making clean contact with the ball and was not overmatched by fastballs. This was confirmed by his vastly improved performance against heaters, rising from a -0.81 wFB/C in 2008 to -0.09 wFB/C in 2009. Overall, it was quite the improvement for Jones.
But there was just as much to be concerned about, especially regarding Jones’ plate discipline indicators. First off, Jones, again, posted a low contact rate of just 74.6 percent, a decline from his 76.9 percent in 2008. Jones also showed no improvement in his free-swinging ways, offering at 53.7 percent of all pitches he saw, hacking at a staggering rate of 35.3 percent of pitches outside the zone—good for eighth-worst in the league among qualified batters. This was compounded by the fact that pitchers caught on to his tendencies, throwing him just 48.4 percent of pitches inside the zone.
Jones’ problems go a bit deeper than just poor plate discipline, however. His injury problems are becoming a significant issue, as he played in just 119 games in 2009, down from 132 in 2008. He missed time for five ailments in 2009, including his hamstring, shin, neck, back, and ankle—which ultimately ended his season in September.
Jones’ swing plane is also a problematic as well. For a player with as much power potential as Jones has, his groundball tendencies are quite troublesome, as he posted the seventh-highest groundball rate last season at 55.4 percent, right around such power threats as Elvis Andrus and Nyjer Morgan. Without an improved flyball rate, Jones will never reach his ultimate power potential. However, for fantasy owners, this does constitute an opportunity as well as a risk, as any improvements in his groundball rate will be a great sign for his power output for the upcoming season.
As he has been cast since 2006, Adam Jones is a player with just as much potential for stardom as he has for disappointment. Jones is really a very interesting player. His power potential and adequate 2009 season mitigate his floor for 2010, while he has so much room for improvement for the rest of his offensive game that, if he figured it out at any time, he could explode as one of the better outfielders in fantasy baseball. It is difficult to say when he will make the breakout—and this is what will be the next phase of his game. For 2010, watch his O-Swing percentage, swing percentage, contact rate, and flyball rate in particular. If his O-Swing percentage drops, the walks will go up and he’ll see better pitches to hit. If his flyball rate improves, the homers will really start leaving the park with good frequency.
Overall, Jones presents excellent potential—just don’t get carried away with it. There haven’t been any signs that he will improve his plate discipline, so until you see them, don’t bank on it. Also, his groundball rate significantly mitigates his power potential, so until that improves, be careful. In the end, Jones projects as a league-average outfielder in 2010, with low- to mid-20s home runs, double-digit steals, and a batting average around .280. Good, not great. Still, he’s worth drafting on potential alone. And, if you don’t get him, watch the indicators to see if you can pull off a big trade during the year.
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Posted by Mike Silver at 1:15am
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