Jones' hard work pays off
Orioles outfielder, at 23, named an AL All-Star reserve
ANAHEIM -- The league has taken notice. Center fielder Adam Jones was rewarded for his breakout season on Sunday, when he was named as Baltimore's lone All-Star. The 23-year-old has already eclipsed his career high in home runs and will be the Orioles' youngest All-Star since Mike Mussina in the 1992 season.
"From Day One, he clearly has grown as a player," said Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations. "I think we expected that he would be an occasional All-Star when we traded for him. I don't know that we expected that it would be his second full season for us. But we're very pleased for him and for the organization."
Baltimore forecast stardom for Jones when it made him the centerpiece of the Erik Bedard deal with Seattle before the 2008 season, and the Orioles patiently watched as he played through an erratic rookie year. Jones came to Spring Training much more confident this season and quickly began to assert himself at the top of the lineup.
The Orioles installed Jones as their No. 2 hitter, nestled between leadoff man Brian Roberts and right fielder Nick Markakis, and watched as he seemingly improved on a daily basis. Jones batted .359 with a .433 on-base percentage in April, and then he followed that up by hitting .333 with seven home runs in May.
The youngster cooled off in June, but he's continued to play his fleet-footed defense in the outfield. Jones, who hit just nine home runs in his first full big league season, will likely set career highs in runs and RBIs. Those standards are in reach largely because he missed a month of last season after breaking a bone in his foot.
"I think Jones is unique in that you really don't have to tell him twice," said manager Dave Trembley. "He's receptive to learning. He doesn't think he knows it all. He's got almost a sixth sense. He's able to figure out a lot of things on his own. I haven't been around a guy that has shown so much improvement from one year to the next.
"He's a legitimate middle-of-the-order guy now. His upside is going to come even quicker than we all thought. I didn't think he'd have this many home runs at this point of the season."
And now, Jones, who has 12 homers, will get to show his skills on the national stage at the All-Star Game, which will take place July 14 in St. Louis. For a year, the Orioles have pointed to the Bedard deal as one that rebooted their franchise. Baltimore didn't just acquire Jones from Seattle; it also got closer George Sherrill, top prospect Chris Tillman and two more Minor League arms. Sherrill made the All-Star team last year and was a candidate again this year.
"Being over here in Baltimore is a dream come true," said Jones. "I think it's the best thing that happened to me and my career. Coming to a franchise that was rebuilding, and getting an opportunity to play every single day, that's all I ask. Over in Seattle, I wanted to play every day. I loved their franchise, but it didn't work out there, so I'm glad that I'm here. ... I was telling George, 'Now, they have two All-Stars that they traded away.' "
But it's Jones, more than any other player, who's most emblematic of the trade's success. The Orioles are hoping he teams with Markakis to form one of the American League's most dynamic young outfield tandems for years to come. And with the way Jones takes care of himself in the offseason, they know they don't have much to worry about.
Jones, who was already in prime condition last season, spent his winter at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona. The San Diego native came to Spring Training with a noticeably more muscular build, and he's maintained his physique and his diet this season in the hope that it will help him thrive late into the year.
"All that stuff doesn't mean [anything] if I didn't do it on the field," said Jones. "All the hard work I put in with [the coaching staff], I think all that paid off more than what I did in the offseason."
The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.
And Jones, who said he would be willing to compete in the State Farm Home Run Derby, will be right in the middle of it. The outfielder accepted kudos from many of his teammates Sunday morning, and the eyes of the city -- and the entire baseball world -- will be on him when he takes the field in St. Louis.
"He's come a long way," said Trembley. "It's great for him, and I think it says a lot for the fact that other people in baseball have recognized the accomplishments for him. I spoke to [AL manager] Joe Maddon three different times in the last two days. He said it was a tough decision because there were a lot of players that were worthy of making the club. But he liked Jones, and I think it's a great choice. Adam will represent himself and the Orioles in a real positive way."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.