With a weekly batting award under his belt, offensive power numbers that rival all other Northwest League hitters, and a first-place team in line to make the playoffs, Canadians first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones is proving he deserves a shot at the next level. What makes his numbers stand out, however, is that the righty is a statistical outlier in the C's lineup.
As a team, Vancouver fields an offense that ranks in the middle of the league for most major hitting categories, including walks (238, good for fourth), strikeouts (513, third fewest), on-base percentage (.335, fourth), batting average (.253, fourth) and OPS (688, fourth).
While the C's have been average at the plate as a team, Vancouver has relied on the 21-year-old Kirby-Jones' power numbers to help propel them into playoff contention. After a sub-par first half (third place in the Northwest West division standings with a record of 17-21), the C's hold a five-game lead atop the second-half West standings with a record of 20-7 — the best winning percentage in the entire Northwest League (.741).
Kirby-Jones is responsible for 12 of Vancouver's 31 homeruns — 39 percent of the team's production in that area — as well as 59 walks, nearly one-quarter of the team's total. His on-base (.420) is 85 points better than the team average, his slugging (.449) is 95 points better, and his OPS (870) is 182 points better.
Included in those monstrous offensive numbers are a grand slam (the first of his career) in a 10-3 C's victory at Eugene on July 25 and a multi-homer game (also the first of his career) in a 5-4, 12-inning loss at Boise on July 31. Over that week-long span, Kirby-Jones's hot streak — .391 BA, five homeruns, nine RBIs — landed him Northwest League Offensive Player of the Week honors (July 25-August 1). In that time, Kirby-Jones helped his team to a 6-1 record.
Kirby-Jones's success at the plate justifies the rationale behind his relatively high draft position (ninth round out of Tennessee Tech in June). Oakland A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota told OaklandClubhouse.com after the draft that the A's made a "conscious effort to add power into the system [in the 2010 draft] and Kirby-Jones is a perfect example of that."
Kirby-Jones is fulfilling those job requirements: he leads the Canadians in runs (37), homers (12), RBIs (35), total bases (97) and walks (59). Of the players who have spent the majority of the season with Vancouver, he is far and away the C's best hitter, more than doubling the homerun total of the next-best Vancouver slugger (Michael Choice, six homers since joining the team in mid-August) and the walk total of the next-best Vancouver eye (Tony Thompson, 21 walks).
"The guy probably out-performed anyone at the college level for the past few years," Kubota told OaklandClubhouse.com. "We have scouts who went in and said that the power was real. It wasn't due to college baseball and it wasn't due to aluminum bats or anything. They strongly felt that the power was real and that it would translate to our game."
If Kirby-Jones continues producing in the Northwest League, the C's could take home a league title. The real fun could begin, however, when Kirby-Jones is summoned to higher levels within the A's minor league system, especially when he reaches the hitter-friendly California, Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues.