Gary Jones, the Padres minor league infield coordinator, has been with the organization since 2003. Before joining the Padres, he held a variety of positions in the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics organizations after his playing career ended in 1989. Jones' job is to make sure that everyone is on the same page, to ensure that fundamentals are being reinforced, and that the team is consistent in their instruction up and down the organization. In essence to create a ‘Padres' way' of doing things.
We caught up with Gary Jones on what will be one of his many visits to Triple-A Portland and reviewed the defensive skills of some of the infielders throughout the organization.
Please describe what your job duties entail for our readers?
Gary Jones: I'm an infield coordinator for the organization. During spring training, I go to the major league camp and help Hoffy [Glenn Hoffman] out. The main job is to take care of the minor league infielders once their camps start, getting them prepared, making sure that they are doing things the right way. Getting them in a routine making sure they are fielding ground balls the proper way, getting the bunt defenses set, and during the season, I follow up on each individual's goals or game plans that we have set for them. Things they might need to work on to improve on, maintain, or stay consistent with.
So you're job is to go around to all the minor league clubs during the season and try to ensure that there is a type of ‘Padres Way' to do things in the field.
Gary Jones: Just like with the hitters. All of our hitters have a routine that they like to do before the game; whether it's soft toss or hitting off of a tee. I try to get across to the guys that as a hitter you have a routine but as an infielder you should also have a routine to get yourself prepared to play that night. I try to relay that to the guys and they start to see that it makes sense to them to have a routine to go out and field ground balls and make throws.
There has been a lot written on what a good athlete Matt Antonelli is – all state in three sports in high school – what is the biggest thing he has to learn about playing second base to become a major league player?
Gary Jones: It's just a repetition and muscle memory and learning so many of the little things about playing the position so it becomes instinctual. The footwork, the things that happen around the bag, the safety aspect about being on the double play with guys coming in hard is especially important. The big thing is the footwork, especially his first step quickness and putting yourself in position to make the play. Second is a little different from third because there it's much more reaction while at second you have more time to think about things about what you might want to do. For Antonelli, it's about making sure that his feet are working for him, whether it's coming in or going out on the ball or making the pivot on the double play.
When that happens everything else starts to flow.
It seems like the organization was very conscious of not rushing him and taking their time to be sure that when he does come up, they expect him to do quite a few things – leadoff, get on base, hit with power and play one of the more important defensive positions on the field. Is that why there was never any real plan to have him be the opening day second baseman in San Diego like some publications were reporting?
Gary Jones: Yeah, you know it's only his second year. He's a guy that has a chance to be a big part of your future – you want to take your time and make sure that we do everything we can do to prepare him once he gets to that level. You always want to hope that when guys get there, they stay there. More times than not that doesn't always happen but it's the goal.
Hopefully, if he gets there, Matt will be able to stay there. It looks good on paper with Antonelli and Khalil Greene – two young guys coming through the system. For me, that is ideal.
We talked to Grady Fuson before the season and they talked about giving Chase Headley some time at third base in addition to the outfield.
Gary Jones: He's got some time there early on the road in Las Vegas, but, yes, we plan to keep him sharp, at least once a week. Chase is taking some ground balls there and you never know what could happen with Kouz. We don't want to limit our options and if he can play more positions it's better for everyone.
Let's talk about some of the infield prospects in Double-A, and the first guy that comes to mind is Kyle Blanks. We always get quite a few questions from our readers about possibly moving him to left field because Adrian Gonzalez is so entrenched at first base on the big club. We've asked Grady Fuson about this and he said that wasn't in the plans. Can you envision a time when the Padres might change their minds?
Gary Jones: Personally, I think he could be a big time first baseman in the big leagues. Again, things have a way of working themselves out. I don't think right now we start thinking about moving him to another position because we have Adrian there. Kyle has the agility, size and footwork to develop into a really good first baseman. The best thing for us right now is to leave him there and see where we go from there. He got his first taste of big league camp, which I'm sure was a great experience for him and got a chance to be around players to see how they prepare.
When he's ready for the big leagues, and if Adrian is still going strong, then maybe its something that the organization thinks about. For me right now, I think he just stays at first base.
You mentioned all of the positive attributes that he has at first base but there has been some negative things written that he isn't quite as strong defensively as he could be. Is it like you mentioned earlier, it's just about more repetitions.
Gary Jones: Exactly. He has all the ability and there are things he's working on. Sometimes he has a tendency to stand a little too tall at first base because he's a big guy. Big guys have a tendency not to use their legs. It's not getting lazy, but sometimes just because he's so big, guys his size sometimes have difficulty getting in that athletic position than others. His arm angle on double plays and shifting his feet could use more work, but it's nothing out of the ordinary for someone his age.
How has the move of Sean Kazmar from second base to shortsop gone defensively?
Gary Jones: He's doing great. He can play short. He has the quickness, the range and the arm. He's doing outstanding defensively, and I think he'll turn around offensively after a slow start. Sometimes we put timetables on guys, and we want it to fit ours ,and it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes, it may take someone longer than what you think to get to the big leagues, but even if they get there later, they can still have a productive big league career.
One player that I've always believed has a chance to be better than he's shown so far is Seth Johnston. How has he done with the transition to a full time third baseman?
Gary Jones: Seth has always been in a tough situation from day one having so many multiples of infielders, but this year he has done very well at third, which I anticipated. He came into spring training and worked hard at getting down into a better position with his glove down. The biggest thing for Seth is just getting the reps everyday and getting his feet going so his hands can work for him. Most guys you talk about and someone could say they have bad hands but in reality is that they are not moving their feet which is what is causing the problem. When young infielders don't move their feet the way they should that is one of the main reasons why they get handcuffed or they get those in-between hops.
Do you think that third base is his best position, or is it the best position for him right now in the organization?
Gary Jones: He can play the middle of the diamond, but I think third base is his best position. He's a big guy around 6-foot-3, and I think he's the type of guy that is going to develop some power. He can play second and short, but I think playing steadily at third has relaxed him because there is just something about going to the park and knowing where you are going to be everyday.