Padres Prospect Report: Kennard Jones

One San Diego Padres scout called Kennard Jones the best hitter at Fort Wayne in 2003. It was one of the reasons that the Wizards earned a first half Championship and got a berth in the postseason. Unfortunately, Jones was long gone by the time the playoffs came around as he was testing his wares in the California League with Lake Elsinore, the same place he sits at the start of '04.

Kennard Jones spent 81 games with Fort Wayne in '03 leading the Wizards by getting on base at a .407 clip. His .307 batting average was augmented by his ability to take a walk, 52 of them in fact. Jones was putting himself on the base paths close to two times a game.

That play prompted a promotion to Lake Elsinore where he promptly got injured. Jones got the chance to play in just 17 games and never developed the same rhythm he had in the Midwest League.

"The guy that I talked about on the air when I would bring up Kennard Jones would be when Brett Butler came into the Major Leagues with the Braves he didn't bunt," Wizards broadcaster Terry Byrom said. "And he was close to not being a Major Leaguer for very long and he learned how to bunt. He would have 35-40 bunt hits a year. Well 35-40 bunt hits a year turns you from .275 to .320, which is what Brett Butler did.

"Kennard hit .310 here and when you realize that in the entire league, the guys who had the minimum number of at bats, like six guys hit over .300. It gives you an idea of how difficult it is to hit in this league. And I think he was hitting about .310-.315 when he left and he was just short of the minimum number of plate appearances before he left. Another week here and he probably would have had the minimum number of plate appearances."

"He just puts the ball in play," said one Padres scout. "He bunts ok, but just puts the ball in play and really good with runners in scoring position."

Unfortunately there was no one on base when Jones would come to the dish. Therefore, his opportunities to drive in runs were limited.

"Yeah we were pretty poor," Byrom admitted. "After Kennard was promoted, there was just no one here that really was a leadoff hitter that would be on base consistently and consequently we didn't score runs. We didn't score runs the last six weeks of the season actually."

Many within the organization think it is only a matter of time before Jones pushes Freddy Guzman out of the way for top centerfield prospect in the system. He has the tools offensively and defensively, but needs to prove himself at the higher levels and continue to build upon his deficiencies.

On defense, Jones has not been termed stellar. Average may be a better term for right now.

"Pretty good centerfielder," said Byrom who watched him play everyday in Fort Wayne. "I never got the impression out there that – you never watched him and thought, ‘they need to move him to left or right.' It was more, ‘hey, this guy can play centerfield.'"

His major weakness is his ability to swipe some bases. Considered one of the faster players in the organization he has had a tough time adjusting and taking in all the advice. "His base running isn't all that poor," said the scout. "He just doesn't seem to have that good first step. So as far as stealing bases – very poor – running the bases – not so poor."

This year, Jones has swiped nine of twelve bases, much better than the previous season.

"He is a guy that I think will end up being the real deal and another guy who has a pretty good chance at being with the Padres, playing in the outfield with them in a couple of years," the Padres scout concluded.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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