Blistering Start May Not Help Jones

The player steps into the box during batting practice and starts driving balls, hard and long, to every corner of the outfield. Many of them clear not only the walls, but the berm behind the walls. His teammates stop and watch with a surprised smile on their faces.

We're not talking about Manny Ramirez. It's a 31-year-old who hammered the ball for Las Vegas over the past two seasons and who led the team in home runs and runs batted in over the first week of spring training.

Mitch Jones, a name many fans aren't familiar with, had the hottest bat of the spring and earned himself a regular spot in most every day's lineup, collecting extra-base hits in six straight games, plus a homer in a "B" game that doesn't count in the spring averages.

But despite the incendiary takeoff, it demonstrates just how difficult it is for a non-roster player to even be considered for the 25-man roster. He finally went hitless and quickly dropped from a starting slot to the backup group who came in to play in the final four innings of each game.

Has the disadvantage of joining a team with a strong list of outfielders: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Juan Pierre, Delwyn Young and Jason Repko, plus hot prospects Xavier Paul and Jaime Hoffmann -- and now that Manny Ramirez has signed, things are even more crowded.

Does that discourage him?

"I'm realistic enough to know there are a number of talented outfielders in the system. But I know I can't worry about what I can't control," he said one afternoon after batting practice. "I just let what I do speak for itself on the field."

The modest young man from Orem, Utah who likes the spring because he enjoys the cooler weather has suddenly become the hottest item in camp. "But I've never had a spring like this one," he admitted.

With a definite power shortage in baseball, how did Jones, who has 200 minor league home runs over his nine year career and who slugged 39 in 2004 seemingly slip through the cracks?

It is easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in baseball and, as the poet said, "waste your perfume on the desert air." Just ask the long list of shortstops, first basemen, second basemen and catchers who came up in sthe Dodgers farm system during the 1950s and were unable to dislodge Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson or Roy Campanella and moved to other clubs where they flourished.

He holds the school record for home runs at Utah Community College a at Arizona State he hit .357 with 27 home runs and 92 runs batted in. He was drafted by Texas in 1997 and Baltimore in 1998 and 1999 before signing with the Yankees in the seventh round of the 2000 draft.

In his second professional season, 60 of his 109 hits went for extra base hits and he was named a Florida State League All-Star. He hit 23 and 39 home runs for Double-A Trenton in 2003 and 2004, being named to the Eastern League All-Star team. "But when I hit 39 homers, three other players in the minor leagues topped 40 and no one said much about my totals," he said.

After 30 and 27 homers at Triple-A Columbus in 2005-06, he was promoted to the Yankees and spent two days on the active roster but didn't see action.

He signed with the Dodgers as a free agent and in the 52 games he was with Las Vegas, he averaged a home run every 9.7 times at bat. Sold to the Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japanese Pacific League, where things didn't work out for him.

After going 3-for-27 in 2008, he returned to the United States and re-signed with the Dodgers organization. He hit five home runs in his first nine games and over the final 64 games of the season averaged a home run every 12.5 times at bat.

He left the organization after the season and looked around for another club. "I listened to a number of teams who wanted me, but when the Dodgers called I re-signed quickly," he remembers.

His lifetime average is .268, creditable for a power hitter and perhaps that is the reason he has not found a permanent home. He obviously will not be able to break into the Dodgers roster this year but some have suggested that he be promoted during interleague play and be used as a designated hitter.

He understands the great odds he is facing in the Dodgers organization and told LADugout that if he is returned to Triple-A, he will continue to demonstrate that he is capable of playing Major League baseball.

Dodgers batting coach Don Mattingly, who knows Jones well, said, "He can certainly hit and he's opened some eyes, not only the Dodgers, but other teams. "He has only to show people that he can play and he'll get a chance."

LA Dodgers Insider Top Stories