Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Man Behind the #10 Jersey – Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

MLB reports:  It is not every day that I have the opportunity to correspond with a Gold Glove winning major league all-star, but over the last couple of weeks I got to do just that with Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles.  Getting to know Adam and hearing his thoughts on the game, his career, and team was fascinating to say the least.  The story begins as follows.

Adam, one of the most fan friendly MLB stars on twitter, started to converse with me on my usual favorite topic, baseball.  I was instantly drawn to his easy going personality and zest for life and the game.  After some messages back and forth, I brought up my blog and the interview articles I prepare on MLB reports. Being the cool cat that he is, Adam suggested he would love to help out a young writer and agreed to be interviewed for this profile piece.  After some research, back and forth emails, and analysis, here we are today.

We covered a range of topics on the career of #10, which I am about to jump into further.  Discussing topics ranging from the baseball influences on his career, his greatest accomplishments, goals, and areas of improvement, Adam did not hold back in his answers.  Considering Adam was both an All-Star and Gold Glove recipient in 2009, it was astounding to find that he did not have an ounce of attitude in his answers.  This is a player that is still humble at the age of 25 and works towards improving every facet of his game.  The combination of baseball skills, work ethic and positive outlook, I believe will translate into a limitless future for one of baseball’s young bright stars.

One of the first questions that I asked Adam was to name the baseball player he most idolized growing up and patterned his game after.  Born and raised in San Diego, California, to no surprise Adam named Tony Gwynn.  However, the reasons behind his response did perk my curiosity.  Baseball was not a sport that Adam “followed too strongly until approximately the age of 12” and only then, Gwynn was more a player that Jones had heard of than followed.  When asked to expand, Adam explained that “I’ve hit with TG [Gwynn] for a few off-seasons now since I’ve been drafted.  We have a tight group that hits together at San Diego State University.”  As far as the influence Gwynn had on his game, Adam indicated that “what I’ve learned is myself.  I’m not the hitter that he [Gwynn] was and that’s not my mentality.  We’ve just had discussions of thought processes and having the ability to take a step back and let the ball come to you.”  When breaking down the comparisons between Jones and Gwynn as players, his response becomes even clearer.

Tony Gwynn, a 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, played in 15 All-Star games, was the recipient of 5 Gold Gloves and 7 Silver Slugger Awards.  Gwynn also ended his career with a .338 lifetime average.  Jones, at the age of 25, brings a different game to the table.  Gwynn is a difficult, if not impossible, player to emulate and Jones is realistic in this regard.  The Gold Glove and All-Star appearance are already there with the promise of more to come.  Adam’s batting average has slowly risen every year of his career to a high of .284 in 2010.  With the right approach and discipline, .300 + is well within his reach.  Like Gwynn, Jones does a bit of everything, including hitting for power and stealing the occasional base.  Similar to Gwynn, Jones’ on-base percentage is dependent more on base hits than walks.    The more I compare the players, the standard that Gwynn set for his career is one that I feel that Adam can strive towards.  The bottom line on Gwynn is that the man could just plain hit.  Jones, working his way up the major league ladder, could follow in the Gwynn’s footsteps, even if Adam does not implicitly try to do so.

My follow-up question asked Adam to name the current MLB star that he most admired.  Based on Adam’s statistics and game style, I would have bet the answer was going to be Torii Hunter.  Guess what?  I was right.  But again, the reasons behind his answer threw me.  According to Adam, “there aren’t enough good things to say about him [Hunter].  But my favorite attribute about him has nothing to do with baseball.  That what he does for a living.  It’s his character.  He [Hunter] is a true leader on and off the field and is highly respected.”  My correlation between Adam and Hunter centered on their similar statistics and abilities on the field, in contrast to Adams’ vision of Hunter as a person and leader.  Hunter, a 4-time All-Star, 9-time Gold Glove winner and a Silver Slugger recipient, as a youngster in many ways mirrored the player that we see in Jones today.  In his breakout year in 2001, Hunter had a batting line of 27 home runs, .261 average, 82 runs, 92 rbis, .306 obp and .479 slg.  Jones, in his 2009 campaign had a line of 19 home runs, .277 average, 83 runs, 70 rbis, .335 obp and .442 slg.  Although not entirely the same, as hitters Jones and Hunter showcased several similarities in those respective years.  The following is Hunter’s average season in the major leagues: .275 batting average, 25 home runs, 89 runs, 95 rbis and 17 stolen bases.  Considering what Adam has accomplished to-date, these numbers are surely attainable and possible for him to exceed.

 Adam indicated that he knew Torii very well and some of his favorite characteristics of Hunter was that “he plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played”, “not a guy that makes any excuses.” Adam mentioned Hunters’ upbeat attitude, and that his’ “favorite thing is that he smiles all the time.  He shows he is happy doing what he loves to do.”  Hunter’s personality has definitely rubbed off on Adam in a positive manner and reflects in his attitude and demeanor on and off the field.  If I had to include a caveat, however, it is the holes that Hunter has in his game that Adam would be well served to avoid in his own play.  Although Hunter is a strong home run hitter and has the ability to score and drive in runs, he has traditionally not hit for a high average or been able to get on-base at a consistent clip.  By working with Tony Gwynn, Jones should focus on raising his own level of base hits and batting average to compensate for a lack of walks.  At this stage of his career, it will be interesting to see if Adam becomes a high average and/or home run hitter as he progresses.

With the above comparisons in mind, I asked Adam what he considered to be his greatest baseball skill(s) and aspects of his game he most wished to improve.  Rather than name a specific on-field capacity, Adam named his “lack of fear” as his greatest trait.  Adam believes that, “others should be a better evaluator of my skills.  I just play.”  This answer fit well within his stated areas of improvement, whereby Adam indicates, “I really want to improve on everything.  I need to steal more bases or be more aggressive.  I need to play better defense.  To get better judgment at the plate.  The best part about baseball is that there is always something to improve on.”  A star player that believes he can improve in every area of the game.  How refreshing.  When I pinpointed particular areas in his game, Adam responds by mentioning that he’s, “never been a high home run guy or walks or stolen bases.  I’ve always played my game and that’s got me to where I’m at now.  Adjustments are needed to be made in order to stay at this level so I am constantly trying to improve on something.”  Whereas Gwynn, known as “Mr. Padre” and “Captain Video” for dedicating enormous amounts of time  to studying video and his approach at the plate, Adam indicates the danger in thinking too much. While he does video, it can often lead into over-thinking and therefore Adam tries to avoid “thinking about hitting when in the batter’s box.” Let the instincts take over. An interesting and old-school mentality as a player, rather than trying to work on specific components, Adam works hard at improving all aspects of his game.

I was curious as to what Jones considers his greatest accomplishment to-date in baseball and what goals he had for the 2011 season.  His 2009 Gold Glove ranks as the top accomplishment, because as Adam says, “it was decided by my peers.”  For the upcoming season, Adam is focusing on, “playing harder than I have.  For me in sports, I feel that if I play every day, the numbers take care of themselves.”  I didn’t get the sense that Adam is the type that checks the box score every day to break down and categorize his own statistics.  This is a player that is driven to play as hard as he can every day and simply focuses on helping his team win.  Plain and simple.

Playing under Buck Showalter should only serve to further Adam’s approach to the game and lead to big things for him and the Orioles as the year approaches.  Showalter, a 2-time MLB Manager of the Year, has a career 916-856 record in 12 seasons.  Dissecting the numbers even further, in his 2nd year as a manager at each of his three stops, Showalter attained 88 wins with the Yankees, 100 wins with the Diamondbacks and 89 wins with the Rangers.  Going into year two with the Orioles, Showalter will work to bring the same strong attitude and success to Baltimore as he has achieved in each of his previous stops.

As far as what Showalter brings as a manager, Adam indicated that, “accountability was number one.  We held ourselves responsible for how we played.  I believe what he (Showalter) wants is for you to give your best effort and play the game.”  By having a similar mentality with his manager, I envision Jones growing into a leader on this young Orioles team.  In his humble response, Adam considers that, “when it comes to the young guys, I’m still a young guy myself.  But I always try and associate myself with my teammates in the clubhouse or the field.  I want them to know that I got their backs.”  That being said, Adam throws in a caution. “I want to be a leader, of course.  But I’m not going to force the issue with that.  You never want to cross the veterans on the teams and I try and show it (my leadership) with my play.  This season we have added veterans that have won and been leaders of their respective squads.  I think we have the possibility to have multiple leaders.”  A very healthy attitude for a budding superstar growing as both a player and leader on his team.  The Orioles bolstered their lineup for the 2011 season with the additions of Vlad Guerrero, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds, in addition to Justin Duchscherer and Kevin Gregg joining the pitching staff.  A veteran team almost overnight, Jones will have many experienced players to learn from in Baltimore as he continues his rise to the top of the MLB ladder.

Reflecting on the 2010 season, Jones felt that the Orioles as a team, “all tried to do everything possible and we couldn’t do it.  We have to play as a team and have the faith in the guy behind you to get the job done.”  With all the additions to the team and a new season ahead, Jones states, “I want to play baseball with them all.  I am excited to get in the locker room and see my (new) team.”  Considering the Orioles teams of the past that Jones has played for, it has been quite the journey for the 37th overall pick in the 2003 draft.  Originally drafted as a shortstop by the Seattle Mariners, Adam was traded on February 8, 2008 to Baltimore as part of a package for then top of the rotation starting pitcher Erik Bedard.  “My first reaction when I found out I was traded to Baltimore was ‘dang,’ I’m going east.”  But then I thought to myself that I was going to have the opportunity to go and show that I can play this game at a high level.”  For a team and player on the rise, the marriage between the Baltimore Orioles and Adam Jones couldn’t be a better fit.

With many bright years ahead of him, Adam took the time to reflect on what he would most want to be remembered for when it was time to hang up his spikes.  “When its over and done, I want people to know that I played my behind off and loved the game that has treated myself and so many people well.”  When you think of Adam Jones, do not look for the next “Tony Gwynn” or “Torii Hunter”.  Consider Adam Jones as himself, the player that he his and the player that he is striving to become.  Adam works hard and has a strong understanding of his strengths and areas he needs to improve.  Behind the #10 jersey there is no hype, attitude or ego – just the baseball player we will always know as “Adam Jones”.

 ***A special thank you to Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles for his time and effort as part of being interviewed for this article.  A thank you as well to Peter Stein, my editor in helping to prepare this piece.***

 

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CONQUERING MOTOWN: BRAD PENNY, DETROIT TIGERS

MLB reports:  On January 11, 2011, after weeks of speculation in the media the news became official:  Brad Penny was officially a Detroit Tiger.  The deal was announced as a 1 year, $3 million dollar base salary with an additional $3 million in incentives.  The overall reaction was positive- a low risk and high reward situation for both the team and player.  With Penny in Motown and spring training a mere days away, let’s review the factors behind this signing and how Brad Penny in 2011 will become the “King of Comerica”.

After the 2010 season came to an end, one of my first projections on the free agent market was that Brad Penny and the Detroit Tigers would be a perfect match.  I had the pleasure of corresponding with Brad Penny in early December and asked him directly whether he was considering Detroit for his new home.  Brad’s response was, “wearing the blue and orange would be sweet.”  Taking a look at the team that he is joining, it is easy to see why Penny could not contain his excitement.

The Tigers enjoyed a relatively strong 2010 campaign and as their roster became molded during the offseason, the future of the Tigers appears to be very bright.  The team has a potent offense led by Cabrera, Ordonez, Jackson and newly acquired V-Mart, combined with a rotation led by Verlander, Scherzer and Porcello and a deep bullpen including Valverde, Benoit, Zumaya and Perry.  Dombrowski in constructing the team covered off the key components and contention in the AL Central appears to be a lock.  Penny as a veteran starter however brings many intangibles to the Tigers that could be the difference maker in a playoff spot.

With young starters Scherzer, Porcello and Coke, Penny serves as a mentor and role model for the young hurlers in learning the finer points of the game.  The experiences and successes that Penny has enjoyed in his 11 seasons in the bigs will rub off on the rest of the Tigers’ pitching staff and hopefully take each of them to the next level.  As well, Verlander and Penny as potentially #1 and #2 potentially on the staff will bring up the game of the other in competing every 5th day to be the best possible starters that they can be.  Lets not kid ourselves, bragging rights in the clubhouse counts and Penny is one of the most focused and intense warriors that you will find in baseball. Comerica, known as a pitching friendly venue, will also prove to benefit Penny as his home field.  Brad Penny will bring out the best in his Tigers’ mates and having a solid core of talent on the team will take his own game to the highest levels.

Standing 6’4” and weighing a solid 230 lbs, the 32 year old Oklahoma born Penny has an outstanding baseball resume. 16 win campaigns and All-Star game appearances in 2006 and 2007, a 3rd place Cy Young finish in the NL in 2007 and near perfection in the 2003 World Series title run with the Marlins, with 2 wins in 2 starts with a 2.19 ERA.  Penny has played for a total of 5 teams in his career.  Penny started off very strong in 2010 for the Cardinals, with a 3-1 record in April and 1.56 ERA.  A strained lat muscle ended Penny’s season on May 21st with the pitcher not returning for the rest of the year despite intense rehab and attempts to return.  Now healthy and raring to go, the Tigers represent a fresh start and promise for the right-handed pitcher.

Offseason reports have been positive on Brad Penny.  He recently got engaged to Karina Smirnoff of “Dancing with the Stars” fame.  As well, Brad mentioned to me on several occasions that he was working out hard at the gym and the impression that I got was that Penny is in the best shape of his life coming into the season.  Secure in his personal life with the hunger to win, Penny is focused on doing all the right things to make himself successful.  His commitment to training and evolution as a pitcher means that at the still young age of 32, Penny has many quality years ahead of him.  Observers need to remember that coming off a strain is much different than arm troubles and/or surgery.  The bonus from last year’s experience is that Penny will come into camp with a fresh arm and more motivation than ever to reclaim his position as one of the top pitchers in baseball.

The Tigers in signing Brad Penny could very well have secured themselves the #2 pitcher in their rotation as part of the drive to return to the playoffs. Penny’s goal in coming to Detroit is to win and to surely get another World Series title under his belt.  At this stage of his career, Brad Penny does not focus on the past and any impressions that people have of him.  As my projected 2011 American League comeback player of the year, Brad Penny will simply let his pitching do the talking and the ranking of the Tigers as a team being his only statistical goal.

Good luck on the season Brad Penny and welcome to Motown.  Tiger Nation awaits your arrival.

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ON THE VERGE- RYAN TATUSKO, WASHINGTON NATIONALS

MLB reports:  At MLB reports we will be running an occasional series titled “On the Verge” where we profile a prospect about to hit the MLB scene.  In today’s feature, we profile Ryan Tatusko of the Washington Nationals.

Ryan was born March 27, 1985.  Standing 6’5” and weighing a solid 200 lbs, 2010 represented a breakout year for the right-handed pitching Tatusko.  He was drafted in the 18th round of the 2007 draft by the Texas Rangers out of Indiana State University (hometown Merrillville, Indiana).  After the 3 ½ seasons climbing up the Rangers system, Tatusko was traded on July 30, 2010 with fellow pitcher Tanner Roark for shortstop Christian Guzman. At the time of the trade, Tatusko was pitching for AA Frisco, both starting and relieving.  After being acquired by the Nationals, Tatusko finished 2010 exclusively as a starter for AA Harrisburg.

From 2007-2009, Tatusko did not have numbers that jumped out.  ERAs each year of 4.13, 4.46 and 4.64, records of 3-7, 3-11 and 7-6, in addition to WHIPs of 1.347, 1.372 and 1.338.  A young developing pitcher, but not one on the “radar” so to speak.  In the 1st half of 2010 with Frisco, Tatusko pitched in 24 games, 13 as a starter.  His record was 9-2 with a 2.97 ERA and 1.340 WHIP.  Definitely solid numbers, but a breakout was still in order.  That breakout occurred in the 2nd half of his 2010 season with Harrisburg, where Tatusko pitched in 6 games entirely as a starter, to a sparkling 3-1 record, 1.72 ERA and 1.173 WHIP.  His SO/BB ratio with Frisco was 1.45 and ballooned to 2.77 with Harrisburg.  When I review these numbers, I see a Kyle Drabek type pitcher at the beginning of 2010 and a Stephen Strasburg clone at the end.

Looking at Ryan’s final 2010 numbers combined in AA, we see a 12-3 record, with a 2.63 ERA and 1.295 WHIP.  From an 18th round pick with a microscopic chance of advancement in professional baseball, Ryan is a pitcher likely ticketed for AAA to start 2011 and could end up with the big club sometime between the all-star break and September.

I have had a pleasure to chat with Ryan on a couple of occasions by e-mail and did some research on him as well.  Tatusko has a strong curveball as well as good command of 3 other pitches- fastball, changeup and slider.  The debate early in his career was whether he would remain a starter or be moved permanently to the bullpen.  Young pitchers in the minors are often eased through both roles in the hopes that they will excel in one given spot.  As a 4-pitch pitcher and coming off a strong finish in 2010, Tatusko will likely be a full-time starter for the foreseeable future.  A student of the game, Tatusko keeps journals of his work and watches video in working on and perfecting his mechanics.  A tireless student of the game, Tatusko has the will and ambition to succeed at the pro-level, which is often described as “90% mental and 10% physical”.

Running into growing pains and adversity early in his career was likely a very good thing for Ryan.  Too often in the MLB we see hotshot prospects rushed to the majors, only to have their careers cut short by injuries or failed confidence.  By building his time up in the minors the right way, Tatusko has been able to prove himself and rise up the prospects ladder.  The Nationals going into 2011 are in an interesting situation pitching wise.  They have a young highly touted closer in Storen, that is expected to close for the club for the next decade.  The starting rotation however, is filled with questions marks and landmines.  Livian Hernandez is currently tabbed as the opening day starter.  Enough said.  From there we see the other potential starters being Marquis, Zimmerman, Lannan and Maya.  In the mix we have injured starters Strasburg and Wang who are not certain as to the roles they could play in 2011.  As soon as an opening arises, Tatusko will be one of the first to be called up this year.  If Ryan is able to grow in 2011 the way he did in 2010, his first stay in Washington could be permanent.

Ryan Tatusko is a man who eats, breathes, sleeps and bleeds professional baseball.  Talking to him, I got the sense that this was a ballplayer with no sense of entitlement that has worked hard and earned everything that he has accomplished.  Good luck to Ryan on the 2011 campaign and we all look forward to watching you as you continue your baseball journey to the show.

 

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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