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Jones Bashes in the ‘Burgh

On July 1st, the following scrolled across the transaction wire:

Pittsburgh Pirates purchased the contract of outfielder Garrett Jones from Indianapolis of the International League (AAA).

Few, if any, in the baseball community so much as batted an eye. After all, Jones was a 28 year-old minor league slugger, a guy on the low end of the defensive spectrum who drifted through the Atlanta and Minnesota systems without distinguishing himself. He was a warm body for a team in transition.

As the 2009 season comes to a close, however, Jones has certainly caught the attention of Pirates fans looking to divert their attention from the whole…”longest consecutive losing season streak in professional sports” thing. Splitting time between the outfield corners and first base, Mr. Jones has crushed the horsehide to the tune of .297/.374/.581 in 345 plate appearances.

In his first extended look in the majors, Garrett has walked in 11.4 percent of his PA, with a mammoth .284 Isolated Power. Among batters with at least 300 trips to the plate, Jones places 7th in ISO. His whopping .402 wOBA puts him between Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez. He has even swiped 10 bags in 12 tries.

Jones has jolted fastballs like few others, with a run value of +2.26 per 100 pitches seen. That’s 10th among big league batters. The 6-4, 235 pound lefty batter actually has a positive value against all pitches seen on a regular basis: +0.19 vs. sliders, +1.23 vs. curveballs and +1.63 vs. changeups.

So, Jones has been a beast this summer. But the question is, where in the name of Shane Spencer did this outburst come from?

A 14th-round pick by the Braves in the 1999 amateur draft, Jones had a completely nondescript minor league track record entering this season. He spent three years in Rookie Ball, slugging .330. A-Ball went little better, with Jones posting OPS figures well under .700.

Garrett finally hit with authority in AA as a 23-year old in 2004 (.311/.356/.593), but any prospect momentum screeched to a halt with a lousy .244/.297/.445 line at AAA the following season. Jones spent five seasons at the AAA level, and none of them translated well to the highest level:

(major league equivalencies from Minor League Splits)

2005
Actual:.244/.297/.445
MLE: .213/.253/.376

2006
Actual: .238/.302/.430
MLE: .211/.265/.366

2007
Actual: .280/.334/.473
MLE: .242/.286/.395

2008
Actual: .279/.337/.484
MLE: .245/.291/.412

2009
Actual: .307/.348/.502
MLE:. 259/.291/.408

Despite spending half of a decade in AAA, Jones never dominated the level. His best work came recently, but those equivalencies basically painted him as Mike Jacobs circa 2009. Unless you’re Dayton Moore, that’s not very appealing.

Jones’ 2009 projections from CHONE, Oliver and ZiPS were similarly lukewarm:

CHONE: .259/.318/.451
Oliver: .242/.324/.398
ZiPS: .254/.304/.427

Where does Garret go from here? Because of his thunderous performance since his call-up, Jones is almost assured to enter the 2010 season with a clear shot at playing time. There’s little doubt that he won’t sustain this level of play. We have three months of out-of-this-world hitting, weighed against a decade’s worth of mundane numbers.

Fantasy owners would be best served by remaining skeptical. Not that Jones should be ignored, but his work this past summer eclipses his previous track record by a shocking margin. The best-case scenario would probably entail Jones retaining some of the gains he made in terms of working the count, while popping a healthy number of extra-base hits.

Given his larger body of work, the odds aren’t very good that Mr. Jones is gonna be a big star. But the Pirates would settle for a cheap, decent bat who can shift between first and the outfield corners.