Depth is short behind Jones at CF
Unfavorable numbers don’t reflect situation he faced much of year
The man: Adam Jones ran the gamut this year. His streak of five straight All-Star appearances ended in a season in which he batted .265/.310/ .436 with 29 home runs. He started out terribly after a back injury limited him over the first few weeks of the season, but a late-May move to the leadoff spot sparked him to get back near his career levels.
However, those two lost months at the beginning and a 13-for-81 (.159) swoon down the stretch made this, statistically, Jones’ worst season since his first full season, 2008. That can be said for traditional measures, such as OPS (.746), and more advanced analytical measures, such as weighted on-base average (wOBA, .319) and weighted runs created plus (WRC+, 95). That wOBA figure is a single point above league average, while the WRC+ number is below average.
That said, Jones was put in some uncomfortable positions this year. Leading off doesn’t exactly suit a free-swinging power hitter like him, but he filled that need for the team admirably and came away with a career-high 39 walks. The same goes defensively, where the Orioles failed to improve the defense around him and Jones had to sacrifice some of his own personal range and evaluations to cover for the deficiencies. Once again, most popular defensive metrics didn’t view Jones favorably, but he’s still the best defender the Orioles had out there. The alternatives: Though many Adam Jones filled in admirably as a leadoff hitter, drawing a career-high 39 walks, and had to sacrifice some metrics to cover for deficiencies on defense. players spelled Jones in center field over the course of the season, the team’s lack of depth there was a constant problem. Joey Rickard made the team in part for his ability to relieve Jones, but when he went out with a torn thumb ligament in late July, the Orioles were in a tough place.
They added veteran Julio Borbon when they had roster space, but when Jones was dealing with a hamstring injury in August, they had to turn to Nolan Reimold in a pinch before adding Borbon back and, eventually, bringing in outside reinforcements.
On Aug. 31, the Orioles traded for Michael Bourn and claimed Drew Stubbs off waivers. Bourn grew into a more significant role as September rolled on, but both were viewed as defensive depth that could fill in for Jones in center field. The future: With all due respect to major league veterans such as Borbon, L.J. Hoes, and Xavier Avery, they’re known quantities at this point, so they can be skipped in a review of a position of relative intrigue.
Two of the more interesting center fielders in the Orioles system are still a long way away, but that doesn’t discount the years they had. Cedric Mullins hit .273/.321/.464 with 37 doubles, 10 triples, 14 home runs, and 30 stolen bases in 124 games for Low-A Delmarva. The 2015 13thround pick was the only player in the system with double digits in all four of those categories, and one of seven players across the entire minor leagues to do so.
A level below him in Short-A Aberdeen, Ryan McKenna, the team’s 2015 fourth-round pick, didn’t post those kinds of statistics. He hit .241 with a dozen extra-base hits in 62 games for the IronBirds, but is a physical, athletic player who can handle center field and with his already strong frame could develop over-the-fence power before long.
Two players split time in center field for High-A Frederick: Josh Hart and Jay Gonzalez. Hart, the supplemental first-round pick from 2013, repeated the level and needed a hot finish to the season to bring his average to .223. Gonzalez, 21, hit .251 with 43 stolen bases between Frederick and Double-A Bowie.
Bowie’s main center fielder was Glynn Davis (Northeast). He hit .251 for the Baysox. The skinny: Even with all that talent in the low minors, there’s a major gap between those young prospects and Jones, the team’s center fielder for at least the next two years.
In the short term, that should be sufficient for a team with the Orioles’ playoff aspirations. A move back into the heart of the lineup would put a run-producer back in that spot, and replacing Jones with a more suitable leadoff man could improve the Orioles’ lineup in multiple ways.
If you’re already planning for a post-Jones world, it will take another year or two of development to feel even remotely comfortable saying anyone in the system — even Rickard — can be the Orioles’ center fielder of the future.