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New D-backs OF Adam Jones stayed fresh in Arizona while waiting for calls

(Kellan Olson/Twitter)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Adam Jones was waiting for a call, just like any other free agent this offseason. Except, he kept waiting a bit longer than he might have hoped. And waiting. And waiting.

Eventually, the 33-year-old was at his residence in San Diego watching most of his friends head out to spring training. With no MLB contract or even hints at one yet, Jones headed out to Arizona  — where his mom has been living the past few years — like most players and aspiring free agents.

He ran Camelback Mountain to get in game shape, hit balls at Grand Canyon University to keep his swing fresh and continued twiddling his thumbs for the opportunity to come along.

Then the Arizona Diamondbacks called, and not only did he have a ball club, but he also had one that needs him.

The D-backs are attempting to convert infielder Ketel Marte to the outfield in hopes for him to become a usable piece in center field.

So, logically, the assumption is Jones will split time with Marte now in center.

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said Tuesday before the team’s spring training game against the Texas Rangers that he agrees with putting two and two together, but that’s not the case.

“Ketel’s versatility allows Ketel to play second base one day and insert somebody like Adam Jones into center field. The very next day [Marte’s] versatility could put him in center field and allow us to play somebody as valuable as Wilmer Flores at second base,” Lovullo said, noting Jones doesn’t change much for how they plan to use Marte at the moment.

“That’s the value of moving Ketel around.”

General manager Mike Hazen said on a conference call Monday they don’t necessarily agree to the designation of Marte as the “primary” option in center. They still envision Marte playing the middle infield as well, which backs up the picture Lovullo painted Tuesday.

Arizona remains hush-hush on how much Jones will play for the club in center but they want to use him in all three outfield spots. After all, he just got to the facilities on Monday, so there are some things to figure out.

Hazen said they’ll use Jones “quite a bit” but provided a bit of a hint when he discussed looking at a “large chunk of at-bats” they had to fill when evaluating days off and such.

Now, whether that’s Jones being a mostly every-day player or being more of a utility outfielder is not being disclosed.

The conversations still need to happen. The D-backs recently got back from Mexico and Jones said he’s talked to Lovullo on three separate occasions but that talk about his defined role going forward still needs to come.

Jones also needs to get more acclimated to the team and being back on the MLB schedule on a late turnaround. Lovullo says they have a light gameplan already laid out.

“A lot of them have went through that general soreness of the first 10 days, the hell week that happens — I haven’t been able to do that but I’ve been able to keep myself in really good shape,” Jones said.

“That’s what spring training is for. Imma be here, I’m gonna get all my reps, all my work on the backfields and try and be ready for opening day as much as I can. I’m in shape, I just need the at-bats and see the balls off the bat.”

With the way Lovullo loves to constantly shift his lineups and keep them fresh, it’s fair to assume Jones’ value is being that extra option for the outfield.

As Lovullo mentioned, whether there’s an injury or a slumping player in the outfield or middle infield, Marte’s versatility in adapting to center makes it easier to find playing time for the likes of Flores, Jones and Nick Ahmed.

“The way we rest our players, the way we rotate lineups — we feel like Ketel is still going to get a lot of time in center field so we’re going to continue on that path,” Lovullo said.

What we do know is that Jones was one of the little-talked-about stars of baseball this past decade and adding a player of his pedigree alone makes sense outside of filling a need.

“I watched him yesterday throw a couple balls around and take some swings and I just felt his presence,” Lovullo said. “I felt that a really good player walked into our camp to make us better and that was a very good feeling for me and I’m sure that everybody felt that when they saw him.”

“I’m looking to learn from him too,” outfielder David Peralta said of the five-time All-Star. “He can help me to get better at everything because I’ve been watching him play and he’s one of the best.”

That’s quite the statement from Peralta, who is widely expected to be Arizona’s best bat this season.

“I think it’s always special when you have veteran guys in your clubhouse,” Peralta said. “Him being around us is going to mean a lot. We’re gonna learn from him. He’s gonna do his best to help us in everything. I can’t wait [for] that.”

And it’s not like Jones’ production fell off a cliff in 2018, either. Sure, his numbers dropped, but a .281 batting average with 15 home runs, 63 RBI, 35 doubles and a .732 OPS is something most teams could use.

“Oh, I can still hit,” Jones said. “In my mind, I still believe that I can produce.”

“I couldn’t believe that he was unavailable,” Lovullo said of Jones being a free agent for so long.

The irony is the four-time Gold Glove winner has had some alarming defensive metrics that are felt to be largely responsible for the long wait. His defensive runs saved in center last season were -18, a dramatic drop-off from plus-four in 2015 and an even bigger fall from -10 and -12 for 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Hazen said the D-backs are aware of what the numbers say and have talked to Jones about them, noting they still feel Jones is going to play “a pretty solid defensive outfield.”

In mid-August, the Orioles moved Jones to right field with big-time prospect Cedric Mullins getting passed the torch.

As expected from what you’ve heard about Jones, he handled the situation perfectly. Oh, did we mention he did so on a 47-win team?

That’s the important aspect of Jones as a player you have to realize. He’s a tremendous locker room presence with the past record of playing at the highest level. On top of that, he can still help a ball club win games.

“He applies himself, he gives everything he possibly has on a given night and on top of that he’s a great leader,” Lovullo told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo Tuesday.

“The one thing you can say, though, is he has this innate ability to grab people, make ’em better, makes everybody around him better and I empowered him today by saying, ‘Look, your leadership skills are gonna help this team get a little bit better, help this team grow up and get to the next level.’

“We’re getting a great player, we’re getting a great leader and he’s a great fit for this organization.”

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