Padres' Prospect Interview: Kennard Jones

MOBILE - After Portland's Freddy Guzman, the Padres prospect that may be the best pure leadoff hitter in the system is Mobile's Kennard Jones. Jones, the Big 10 Player of the Year honoree before the Padres took him in the third round of the 2002 draft, has a tremendous amount of athletic ability. Although he has not produced remarkable numbers as a professional, the Padres started to see his potential realized in the second half of the season in Mobile.

He hit a combined .327 in July and August and, just as important, posted a.400-plus on-base percentage each month after the all-star break. Jones channeled his above-average speed both in the field where he played solid centerfield and on the bases where he matched his career high with 23 stolen bases.

The Padres have always been high on Jones, who is a good athlete with great speed, and he even made a few Padres' prospects top 10 lists going into 2004. However, he had a sub-par season in 2004 and seemed to be heading down the same path in 2005 until his last two months in Mobile put him back on track. The difference for the turn around was Jones finally started to focus on putting the ball in play more and drawing walks instead of hitting so many into the air.

Last year, you really had two seasons, the first in which you struggled and were hitting under .250 and the second when you hit above .300 with a .400 + OBP. What was the big change for you that led you to improve so drastically?

Kennard Jones: Every year they say its not a sprint it's a marathon. I've started to learn to kind of pace myself. You always strive to get off to a good start, you want to get off to a good start, but this was my first full season of AA. I had some ups and downs.

Towards the end of the season I talked to Tye Waller a few times just to get a gauge of what I needed to be doing. I felt like it was my protection year last year and I was really striving to get on that roster [40 man]. The last two months I really adjusted. In 2003 I came up to AA, and struggled a little. At the beginning of last year I was struggling again, towards the end I just got more comfortable.

In the second half it seemed you weren't hitting as many balls in the air, which played more to your strengths of using your speed. Comments?

Kennard Jones: I really did work on that. Everyday I come out here early and try to focus on what the Padres want me to do. They wanted me to go gap to gap a little bit more. I kind of got out of my game trying to hit for a little too much power. Last year I really started to not only know what my role was, but how to do it as a leadoff hitter. Its about getting on base as much as possible, any way. My money is in my legs. If I can put the ball in play, just try to barrel it up as much as possible.

It worked out for me.

When you get on base what have you done to increase your percentage of being successful when you attempt to steal?

Kennard Jones: Stolen bases is definitely an art. As you've known in the past I've been a little reckless in the past, but I'm learning. I never really started learning about slide steps, the time it takes a catcher to throw to second until I got to pro ball.

Last year and the year before I really tried to bear down on not getting picked off as much. I try to improve, for me it tough because I over think too many aspects of it. In this game sometimes thinking too much will get you in trouble.

When you look at Freddy Guzman he has an incredible stolen base percentage.

Kennard Jones: Oh yeah, that guy is incredible. It's an art. I've been working with Doug Dascenzo in the Instructional Leagues and really worked on my approach. The more I run the better I will be. This year we haven't been as aggressive as in the past, but also I have George Kottaras hitting behind me. We've been in a lot of situations where I really haven't had to run as much.

60-70 bags is a big jump, but it's a goal. You always try to reach attainable goals so 25 to 30 is good, but that is where I would eventually like to be.

This year your on-base percentage is good, but your batting average is a little low and, as you said you haven't been able to steal as many bases as you like. What have you been trying to focus on?

Kennard Jones: This year I've tried to focus on squaring up as much as possible, getting my swing down. I really don't get too much into numbers early on because it's a long season. I'm just trying to play a solid game.

It seems like you are kind of fighting a no-win battle. On one hand the team wants you to hit with more power, go gap to gap, but if you look like your swinging to hard then "you don't understand your role"?

Kennard Jones: [laughs] You really can't win. They love you when you are doing well and they talk about you when you are going bad. I really just try to maintain my game, if you get into "he said she said" it will drive you crazy.

What position are you the most comfortable at?

Kennard Jones: Definitely center field, that is my love. That is defense. Defense in batting practice is my favorite. I would probably rather run balls down than hit. This is the first year I've been out in left field, but I can't complain, wherever they want me to play, I'll play.

It seems like they are rotating three [Adam Bourassa, Drew Macias and Jones] outfielders in centerfield this year?

Kennard Jones: We have a lot of talented guys out here. Its good to be able to play more than one position to add to your resume. I'm more comfortable out there in center because that is where I have always played. Its fun being the captain having your guys moving with you, getting a guage of how much ground you can cover.

It seems you are more comfortable having guys react to you than the other way around?

Kennard Jones: Yeah, I definitely try to cover as much ground as I possibly can. I love to run. I just read the charts everyday, try to get better.

No health problems this year?

Kennard Jones: No, knock on wood. No problems with the hamstrings. Its always good to be healthy. Talk to Michael Johnson, he's so talented and he just can't get that hamstring healthy. So I'm really lucky.

Just staying in that lineup trying to show these guys that I can play in the big leagues.

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