Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

James Jones was called up a few weeks back to give the club versatility and depth during their trip to Miami, but his recall Sunday is likely to mean a longer stay in the big leagues. Abraham Almonte was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to get right. For the record, I prefer Almonte to Jones in the short term, but have no issue with Almonte being shipped out to clear his head, find his swing and gain some confidence. In the end, he’s still one of the best 25 players in the organization and certainly one of the best four outfield options.

Jones, 25, was No. 18 on my M’s Top Prospects List in the 2014 Prospect Insider Handbook. He’s performed well in Triple-A, posting a .313/.382/.450 triple-slash, including six extra-base hits and five stolen bases.

At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Jones is similar to Michael Saunders; left-handed with some power, runs well, throws well — Jones pitched at Long Island during his draft year — and his athleticism makes him adequate in center field.

Adequate does not equal ‘average,’ however, as he’ll occasionally pause before starting his route to the ball. Ultimately, like Saunders, he profiles better in a corner.

James Jones (photo courtesy The Seattle Mariners via Justin Tafoya/Clarkson) Creative

James Jones (photo courtesy The Seattle Mariners via Justin Tafoya/Clarkson) Creative

As for what to expect from him right now, it depends on how he’s used by Lloyd McClendon. Sitting and playing once a week is always a bad idea, in my opinion, but for Jones I do not like the idea of throwing him to the wolves, playing him regularly in center and high in the batting order where he may press or change what he is as a hitter, and I wouldn’t let him face a lot of left-handers.

He’s held his own against lefties in the minors, however, so I’d also avoid tagging him as a pure platoon option. His swing is a bit long, but its path to the ball is relatively short and engineered for line drives and contact. Despite being the size of a power bat, Jones profiles better as a Jacque Jones clone; medium power, some speed, some defense and baserunning.

It’s imperative, however, that he’s put in a position to succeed. If he can get comfortable he can be useful, and with athletes like Jones there is no telling what the ceiling truly is. Not suggesting he’s a future star of any kind, but he does possess all five tools and if the hit tool pops he could be a regular option down the road.

For now, it’s about his role and how the club handles his mindset during the positive and negative results alike.

He should NOT start regularly, period, which means he should NOT start ahead of Michael Saunders on a regular basis. If he churns out replacement-level performances, it’s a significant upgrade to Almonte, and there’s no reason Jones can’t do so.

Here is what I wrote about Jones in the handbook:

Jones, an athletic, rangy outfielder with a solid left-handed swing, but while it may seem time is running out — Jones is now 25 — he was mostly an arm at Long Island before the M’s tabbed him in round 5 in

If Jones is to play regularly in the big leagues, he needs to show more power than the 32 extra-base hits he produced a year ago in 422 plate appearances, including just six home runs. He did make better contact in 2013, tallying just 74 strikeouts, and could be ready to turn another corner in 2014.

Jones has a slightly-long swing, but good bat speed and a chance to hit .270 with 20 homers. Defensively
the arm is plus and then some, and he’s fringe-average in center while showing well above average in
right field.

Saunders has earned the right to start for this team with his recent surge at the plate. Doesn’t matter a whole lot if it’s in center field or right field, but he’s deserving of regular play. He’s the top option to lead off at present and not even Lloyd McClendon can dispute that barring a liar-liar-pants-on-fire convention coming to town.

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

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