Depth is short be­hind Jones at CF

Un­fa­vor­able num­bers don’t re­flect sit­u­a­tion he faced much of year

Baltimore Sun - - MLB PLAYOFFS - By Jon Me­oli With the 2016 sea­son fin­ished, there’s no bet­ter time than the present to take stock of the Ori­oles’ or­ga­ni­za­tional depth at ev­ery po­si­tion around the di­a­mond. We’ve been break­ing down ev­ery po­si­tion in­di­vid­u­ally and sep­a­rat­ing the play­ers

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.


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