Lloyd McClendon’s patience with the lack of offense from center fielder Abraham Almonte came to an end a little over a week ago. The .198 batting average, .248 on base percentage, and .292 slugging was at least temporarily sent to Tacoma in favor of James Jones.
As this is Jones’ first year in the majors, Seattle Mariner fans should both be encouraged and excited while also tempering their enthusiasm over his hot streak since being called up again (Jones also played briefly in April against the Miami Marlins). In order to get a sense of what the Mariners have in center field, let’s take a look at some of Jones’ minor league numbers.
First of all, it’s worth noting that Jones, like so many of the Mariners’ big leaguers, is fairly young. At 24 in 2013, he arrived in Tacoma almost three years younger than the average player in AAA. Before being called back up, Jones had logged 511 games and 2,161 plate appearances at all levels of the minors. Over that span, he’s racked up a .282 batting average, .363 on base percentage, and .442 slugging. The decent slugging percentage is largely attributable to his speed, as he has 99 doubles and 39 triples, to go along with 99 stolen bases.
If we assume somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 plate appearances going forward, it is reasonable to expect Jones could put up a line something like .270/350/.420 with 8 to 10 HR’s and close to 20 SB. But how do those numbers compare to Almonte’s minor league numbers?
In nine seasons in the minors, Almonte has racked up 701 games and 3,007 plate appearances. His .268 batting average is almost a full 20 points lower than Jones’. His .349 OBP is almost 15 points lower than Jones’. And most dramatically, his .401 slugging percentage is over 40 points lower than Jones’. So Jones would appear to be a nice little upgrade over Almonte offensively.
But, what about defensively? Advanced metrics like UZR and DRS are still fairly new and evolving at the major league level, while at the minor league level, they are essentially non-existent. To compare Jones to Almonte defensively, we’ll have to rely on the flawed statistic of fielding percentage, which can, theoretically, reward the player with the lesser range (If you never get to the ball, you can’t miss it).
In 471 games playing center field in all levels of the minors, Almonte had a .976 fielding percentage. Compare that to Jones, who in 117 games in CF and 333 games in RF has a .971 fielding percentage. The difference is statistically insignificant, making Jones for Almonte essentially a wash defensively.
Given the difference at the plate, Jones could project out to a little better than a replacement level player, giving the Mariners another 1 or 2 WAR. With the perennial powers in the AL East struggling early on, two wins could conceivably make a big difference in the Wild Card race, a race a quarter of the way into the season, the Mariners find themselves smack in the middle of.