If you are guessing that Yuniesky Betancourt has once again descended upon San Antonio (16-10), you would be about as right as rain in the Alamo City. The Cuban's days in Double-A are over, and numbered in Triple-A Tacoma, but a new middle infielder is taking the Texas League by storm.
Help has arrived in the form of Adam Jones, a 19-year-old rising prospect who has silenced nay-sayers by busting out of the gates with all cylinders firing. Experts were skeptical upon hearing of the promotion from Inland Empire, but now must put their feet in their mouths after the athletic infielder's .326 batting average to open the half.
"I didn't expect much from him early, but he's handled himself well," said Missions manager Dave Brundage. "He just needs to play and get experience, and that's what he's going to get here."
Since joining the Missions, Jones has surprised coaches, teammates and critics alike. Even against more accomplished pitchers, the former high school pitcher has put up solid offensive numbers, recording four doubles, two home runs, six RBI and seven steals in 26 games.
"The pitchers here are more confident. They can throw a strike at any time in the count," Jones said, referring to the increase in the level of play at the Double-A level. "Other than that, it's the same game I've played before. I just need to be more consistent."
With Betancourt gone and left fielder Jon Nelson trying to find his rhythm since coming off the disabled list, San Antonio was sorely lacking another bat, which they have found in Jones. Other than left fielder T.J. Bohn, no one has been hotter at the plate recently.
"He's had a lot of good at-bats for a 19-year-old, but he's just getting his feet wet," Brundage said. "He's proving that he can hold his own here, but I don't want him to settle in and play to this level. I want him to set his goals higher."
Just about two years removed from his professional debut in Peoria, Ariz., Jones is now playing night in and night out with players as many as eight or nine years his senior. The age gap does not worry the San Diego-native, who said the Missions organization welcomed him with open arms.
"Jones has done a terrific job filling Betancourt's place," said Tacoma pitcher and former Mission Bobby Livingston. "He's a tremendous athlete and he hasn't let anyone down since he's been here (in San Antonio)."
Jones, of course, had to make a quick first impression on Livingston; the southpaw was shipped to the Rainers just days after praising the youngster.
"(The other players and I) go out to eat and do things like that. They've accepted me really well," Jones said. "There's no, ‘hey let's play a prank on the new guy.'"
Right now, Jones is still a raw talent. He's not as smooth as Betancourt on defense, making up for it with a cannon of a right arm. He knows the Cuban from their days in spring training, but feels no pressure to make people in San Antonio forget about the Mariners' "shortstop of the future."
"He's got great hands and can run, but we're totally different players," Jones said. "I can't come in here and think I'm going to play like him. I have to stick with my game."
This remarkable early success may not have been premeditated, but Jones admitted that before the season he was already aiming to make the jump to Double-A. Now he has his sights set on a successful second half with his new club.
"I don't think about my age, and I'm sure my teammates don't," Jones said. "I'm here because the Mariners think I can play at this level. When I mess up, there are not excuses, saying ‘oh well, I'm young.' That plays no part of it."
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