Jones on Padres prospects and defense

Gary Jones has been a manager, mentor, friend, and now patrols the affiliates as the roving infield instructor. His knowledge is vast and he shares it where the grass meets the dirt. We caught up with Jones to talk about the plethora of infield prospects within the San Diego Padres system.

When you come to see some of the guys in Eugene and Arizona, maybe even for the first time, what are you hoping to get across to them in their fielding and how they go about their business?

Gary Jones: Well, for me, one of the first things I look at is work habits, how a guy really works, and you look at the mechanics, but you don't really get into changing guys too early or too quick before you actually see them playing in a game because sometimes guys are better game players than they are actually practice players. Sometimes, some of the things they do in practice, they don't really do in the game. And vice versa: sometimes guys are maybe doing the right things in practice, when they get to game situation it's a little totally different. When you first meet a guy, see a guy, you don't want try to start over-instructing, or giving them too much advice. You just want to kind of, just like with (Beamer) Weems, you know the biggest thing with him just kind of get him acclimated with second base a little bit, he's a good enough athlete where, he's going to be able to move over and play second base just fine. We know he's a shortstop, but there's going to come a point where he's probably going to have to play some second base as well.

Well, that seems to be happening with a lot of guys: Drew Cumberland, Lance Zawadzki and all the guys in Eugene - everybody's kind of shifting between both spots. It doesn't matter who you are, it just seems that those two spots, those keystones, are vital for everybody to know.

Gary Jones: It's a situation where we have an abundance of good middle infielders, and if we didn't do it like that; for instance, if we just left Zawadzki and Cumberland at shortstop and put another guy at second base, quite naturally one of those guys, one's going to play, or both guy's will be missing out on valuable playing time. But by being able to shift both guys to second base, now both guys can be in the lineup at the same time. And you take a guy like (Andy) Parrino, who can play both of those middle infield positions as well as third base, it gives him a chance to be in the lineup as well. So it's kind of going to be the same thing with (Jeudy) Valdez and Weems - both guys are actually shortstops, but we want both guys to get as many at bats as possible. Quite naturally, we can only play one shortstop at a time. It means sometimes other guys play second base.

That's just one way to get guys ABs, a way to get guys acclimated to also playing second base because so many times we've seen a guy comes in as a shortstop, but as he gets moving up the ladder, maybe he goes to the big leagues and gets called up; a lot of times a manager may say, "Hey, Drew - Drew Cumberland, go to second base." It may be in a big league camp, it may be at spring training and Cumberland may go to the major league club as an infielder and they may tell him to go to second base. It's good for these guys to be a little bit versatile like this so if something out of the ordinary happens where they have to move to the other side of the diamond, it's not foreign territory to them.

You hear about guys who can play second base, but who can't play shortstop, maybe, not as well. You never hear the reverse. Why is that true?

Gary Jones: Most of your shortstops are your better, quote, athletic type guys, guys with better arms, now you move over here to second base and everything is closer, shorter, better arm; a lot of times we've got second basemen, and that's all they've ever played, second base; nine times out of ten it's because they probably don't have the arm to play consistently at shortstop.

Maybe they can move to shortstop and play a couple of games here or there but not go over and play on an every day basis because they don't have enough arm strength to make all the plays that need to made from that side of the batter; whereas a shortstop can come over from this side of the diamond. He's already got a good enough arm because he's an everyday shortstop, but now, you move him to second base, he's probably going to be able to make plays from second base better; an ordinary second basemen might not be able to make, simply because of his arm strength. He may be able to turn a couple of double plays simply because of his arm strength, that maybe a regular second baseman may not be able to make because he's got a little bit more extra up on his body to get that guy at a half a step; whereas maybe the regular second baseman, a guy may beat him.

So what are the differences between the two? I mean, you seem to be working on the same things with everybody. It's balance, it's footwork, it's throwing position, it's being, ready in a good, solid wide base to throw the ball.

Gary Jones: It's basically the same. Some guys have natural, God-given abilities just better than other guys. But that doesn't mean, if my ability's better than your ability, that doesn't mean you can't put yourself in the best possible position to be successful. And that's what it's all about. It's about putting themselves in the best possible position to be successful.

It's just like a hitter. They work with the hitters to have rhythm, timing, separation, stride, balance, to put themselves in the best possible position to be successful as a hitter. It's the same things defensively.

You want to be in the best possible position to be successful as a defender. Do whatever it takes to be the best you can be with what your God-given ability is. And sometimes, because of ability, one guy may be able to play at this level, and that's as good as he can be, but another guy's playing at this level, a notch below him, but he's still playing as good as he can be. He's just not as good as the guy that's playing at this level. Now that doesn't mean to say the guy below him may not be a better major league player because even though this guy that's got all the ability in the world, he may not be consistent enough; whereas this guy that has a little less ability, he's so consistent with everything he does, he may end up being a better major league player. And you see that happens all the time.

Over the last year, have you seen any guy make tremendous progress defensively?

Gary Jones: Yeah. I'm not talking about the new guys, but you look at those guys at Fort Wayne, I look at that whole infield at Fort Wayne, from (Justin) Baum to Cumberland to Parrino, Zawadzki; even (Felix) Carrasco - when you had him for a little bit last year: I think he struggled defensively a little bit. All those guys have just made tremendous strides.

You look at those errors, those guys, yeah, they got a few errors, but you know what? You show me infielders in A-ball that don't have a lot of errors, that's just natural. I mean, that's going to happen just because of the fact of inexperience, inconsistency, that type of thing. But as they get moving up, going, a couple of years under their belt, a lot of those errors are just going to be not even nonexistent.

Go back and look at some of your good shortstops in the major league level, I guarantee if you go back and look at the Derek Jeter's and the Alex Rodriguez', and Miguel Tejada's and all those guys, when they played in rookie ball and A-ball. Just go back and look at their errors, I guarantee you all those guys were in the 30s and maybe even the 40s in errors at that level.

Jesus Lopez, who began the year in Lake Elsinore and then went to San Antonio, is probably one of the best fielders in the system, playing on one of the toughest diamonds in Lake Elsinore; it's a pretty slick field.

Gary Jones: Oh, it's a quick field. But, you know what? Lopez can flat out pick it. That's what he does. I wouldn't be afraid to put him on a major league team and say "you go be the designated defender."

Is that a joy to watch?

Gary Jones: Oh yes, it's beautiful to watch. He does it so easy and simple. He never puts himself in a bad position. Because of his footwork and because of the way he reads hops he's always in a good fielding position. That's what it's about. He has great hands, but his footwork makes his hands look even better.

Sean Kazmar was a second baseman for a while. He was one of the few that actually went over to shortstop. Last year in Lake Elsinore, I remember watching him and going "wait, this kid can really play shortstop." And he subsequently was called up straight from Double-A

Gary Jones: The thing that most people don't know is that Kazmar was a shortstop coming out of college. Even his first year, I think in the instructional league he played shortstop. So, we moved him to second base because we had a situation where we had Ciriaco at shortstop in Double-A last year I think to start out with, and we wanted both of those guys to play there. So, Kazmar ended up going to second. So, that's why it looks like he moved from second to shortstop and you're like "whoa, he can play short", when, in reality, he was already a shortstop.

How is Kyle Blanks coming along. Last year he was supposed to come to instructs to work on defense, but then he got hurt.

Gary Jones: Kyle is doing great. He had an awesome year. Defensively, he's playing fine. He is a big, big fella, but he's agile; he's got good footwork. He's a good athlete. His size, you look at him, without watching him do anything, you wouldn't think that he's as athletic and as quick as he is. That's one of the things that make him such a good defender.

He's got quick feet; he's a good base runner. He's got a good arm. Even though with his size, he's a real good athlete. I didn't see Frank Thomas, anything like that come up through the minor leagues. I don't want to compare him to Frank Thomas. Just from what I've seen of Frank Thomas on TV, at a distance, I would say Blanks is probably a better overall athlete than Frank Thomas was.

You had Matt Antonelli in Portland before his call up to San Diego. We've seen him now in his second full year of playing second base.

Gary Jones: Matt's going to be fine. Offensively, he's struggling a little bit this year. Defensively, from what I've seen, going in there and talking to Randy (Ready) and talking to Gamby (Tom Gamboa), people that see him and their going "defensively he's doing fine". It's a little different of an adjustment for a guy going from shortstop to second, as opposed to a guy going from third base to second. There were just things around the middle of the diamond that he had never really done before just being a third baseman.

He was getting acclimated to footwork in the middle of the diamond. The footwork of starting a double play; reading the ball differently in the middle of the diamond as opposed to being on the corner. There were a lot of different things that he was getting used to. He's doing fine. Last year, I thought he made great strides moving from Lake Elsinore to Double-A. Then, this year we kind of pushed him into the situation in Triple-A, knowing that there might be times when he was going to struggle. Overall, he's doing a great job. He's improving on a daily basis. I was just talking to Gamby; he saw him not long ago, and he said he saw him make a couple of real nice plays; diving plays. Last night, reading the report, he made another diving play up the middle. He's coming along fine.

Last guy, Rayner Contreras, he's been to third, he's been to second he's kind of been a little bit all over and it doesn't seem like he has a true position, we just know he's got a good bat.

Gary Jones: Rayner was a second baseman, actually, when we signed him he was a second baseman, then we moved him to shortstop. Last year, because we wanted him to get the ABs and he deserved to move up a little, we moved him to third base. Now, because of the abundance of middle infielders we've got, we've left him at third base just so he's able to get the ABs. That doesn't mean, somewhere down the road, he's not going to be able to move back to the middle of the infield.

So, how has his defense progressed? He was a little fast; everything was fast for him.

Gary Jones: A lot of times, that's what young infielders do is try to get a little bit too quick and over charge balls, over play balls. All their life they've always been told "charge the ball, charge the ball, charge the ball". Well, being aggressive and charging the ball, that means just being a half a step up. Now you're aggressive to the ball because you got a good hop. Charging the ball doesn't necessarily mean you have to meet the ball 10 feet up in front of the spot where you started from. A lot of the time, that's where young players get that misconception of "I've got to go get and charge every ground ball; and just catch every ground ball 10 feet up in front of where I started." Sometimes you only have to move a step and a half up. Sometimes you may have to take a step and a half back and that's still being aggressive to the ball. You're just reading the ball and moving your feet and getting your good hop, getting yourself in a good position to make the play, that's basically what it is.

That's funny because, you know; we're taught this all our lives. You think about all the things we're taught that are wrong!

Gary Jones: Yeah, get that elbow up!


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