Name: Daryl Jones
DOB: September 1, 1986
It was only a season ago that Jones suffered through a dismal season, one that was afflicted by incorrect prescription contacts, high error totals, and a .188 average.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Jones rebounded to have a respectable campaign in 2006. A .242 average may not scream prospect but his ceiling remains as high as any.
"Where people were saying about him last year and where he was he made incredible improvements," 2006 Fort Wayne hitting coach Max Venable said. "He is on the right track. He just turned 20 – he is on the right track. He has great bat speed. With the bat speed he has a little more maturity to the game and he will be fine."
The first baseman played his first year of full season ball at the age of 19 in the Midwest League.
When he was originally drafted, the Padres slapped the label "raw" on him and he has proven that is the case in some areas. Yet, there is no way to deny his incredible talent and potential.
The Los Angeles native certainly had ups and downs with the Fort Wayne Wizards.
He started off on a tear, taking the ball to all fields and crushing nine homers in his first 40 games, hitting .278. The lull hit soon after and he fought hard to push through – but his numbers dipped across the board. He managed just three homers over his final 81 games, hitting .215.
"I chalk that up to age and maturity," 2006 Fort Wayne manager Randy Ready said. "One of the toughest assignments in professional baseball is your first full season. So here is DJ – gets off to a great start, has a nice first half, good numbers, makes the All-Star squad and then I think his confidence and ability to adjust and the day in wear and tear started to get to him. I don't think it was as much physical fatigue but maybe mental fatigue. I think that would be a feather in the cap for this young man being in his first full season."
A right-handed hitter, Jones smacked southpaws at a .291 clip but hit .225 off right-handed pitching. His 114 strikeouts were the 14th highest total in the league. While 25 players drew more walks than the 46 he collected. Only four of the players who whiffed more than him drew as many walks and he has made progress in his pitch selection in each of the past three seasons.
That pitch selection will have to improve for him to continue his ascent. He can get long in his swing and sometimes has trouble handling pitches on the inside part of the plate. He is also prone to chasing, taking his aggressive attitude into the box.
"Daryl started off extremely hot and then tapered off a little bit," Venable said. "I think he got into a rut where he was so frustrated. And as competitive as he is and as aggressive as he is as a hitter and as young as he is he just didn't put the whole package in as far as being patient and being a little bit more pitch savvy as far as selection – a little too amped at times. To me that is a good thing but it hurt him in the long run."
What else was it that held him back?
Slumps essentially turned into a mental game for Jones. When things were going well it was evident in his demeanor. As the tables turned and he faced adversity it overtook his mindset and had him continually pressing. This is a kid that knew he was better than he showed in 2005 and put a ton of pressure on himself to quell the doubts. Playing in over 100 games for the first time in his career also took a toll.
"If you come off the Eugene numbers and obviously his first year was nice, but last year in Eugene was a struggle for him but he bounced back and was prepared in spring training with how he wanted to go about his business," Ready said. "I think that carried through for him over the first half of the season. Unfortunately, mentally, physically, he hit the wall and never really got it going. He swung the bat ok but the adjustments were tougher. Again, tough assignment in that first full season. You have to give him a "B" on the full year."
Jones is exceptionally strong and has a tendency to swing for the fences instead of allowing his natural ability and potency to come through. Possessing an uppercut swing with quick hands, Jones doesn't need to try to hit the ball harder – equivalent to a golfer soundly squaring the ball and allowing the swing to do the rest.
A dead pull hitter, Jones has a tendency to get on top of balls as he rushes his bat through the hitting zone or he will pop balls up instead of staying square to the ball and lacing line drives.
He understands the theory of hitting the ball where it is pitched and pitchers attacked him inside throughout the year, peppering him with off-speed pitches and fastballs inside. He must learn how to handle each situation and lay off those pitches not in his comfort zone.
With his power, Jones has to become more settled in his approach. The homers will come if he works on making solid contact. He oftentimes worries about the peripherals too much.
Jones is more than just a fall-down defender at first base. He has solid range but has had some struggles picking balls out of the dirt. He hasn't had the regular playing time, moving to designated hitter in a platoon with Kyle Blanks, and that also factors into the total equation – it isn't easy to just come off the bench to hit while others are in the flow of the game.
"Jones has more bat speed and probably – probably – more raw power than Kyle but Kyle is probably the better all around hitter," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said. "(Blanks) uses the whole field but Daryl did improve. It is going to fun to watch those two to see who is the better player in the end."
The slugger has a change this coming season to vault up the rankings with a solid showing. The power is there – if he allows it to come naturally – and he needs to be more forgetful to truly be able to succeed.
ETA: Now 20, Jones is poised to tackle the California League. It could provide a boost to his advancement, as the league is considered a hitter's paradise. Confidence is a major thing for hitters, especially young, fragile minds. A huge year is a definitive possibility with the talented Jones. That could propel him to reach his goals. Having to redo a league along the way could shatter the strides he has made thus far. Look for Jones in 2010 – he will still only be 24 at that time.