Giants' Chuckie Jones Still Trying To Get Started
EVERETT, Wash. — Giants outfielder Chuckie Jones is trying to get back into a groove.
After hitting .279/.360/.461 last year in his professional debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League—where he ranked as the league's No. 13 prospect—Jones wasn't ready for a full-season assignment and started this year in extended spring training. He joined short-season Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League, and got off to a slow start, hitting .219/.354/.281 in 61 at-bats.
Plenty of established big leaguers have had sluggish beginnings to their pro careers, and there is reason to cut Jones some slack. Consider this: For the first time in his life, he's focusing on one sport. He also missed three weeks this season due to an emergency appendectomy.
Jones had an appendectomy in late June. He was able to start taking batting practice about a week after the surgery, but was out of game action for almost three weeks. He returned to the lineup on July 14 and managed just two hits in his first 17 at-bats.
But as the season wore on, Jones began to signs of improvement. On Aug. 2, he registered his first multi-hit game since his debut with Salem-Keizer nearly two months earlier, boosting his average 24 points.
"It took awhile to get my timing back," Jones said. "I'm just now starting to get back into a groove."
"His progress, because of the injury, has been slowed," Salem-Keizer manager Tom Trebelhorn said. "So we'll try to get him back in and get him as many at-bats as we can the rest of the year.
"That set him back a bit, but he's an exciting guy that can run and hit for some power."
Younger Than He Looks
Between his imposing stature (Jones stands 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds), his impressive strength in batting practice and his persistent five o'clock shadow, the newly 19-year-old Jones fits right in with his older teammates. He's both young for his draft class and his league, and is the youngest player on Salem-Keizer's roster.
Jones' strong build also made him stand out on the football field at Boonville (Mo.) High. He was a quarterback in high school, and several Big 12 Conference schools had interest in him as a safety or outside linebacker. Jones always preferred baseball, though.
"I kind of realized I could have a longer career with baseball and I saw kind of how things were panning out with how I was playing," he said. "I really like baseball, so when it came down to the time to make a decision, it was definitely baseball . . .
"I grew up in a real big baseball town and all my friends played baseball, I played baseball since I was about 5. I played other sports too, but I always had the most fun with baseball."
Because of his two-sport commitment, Jones was largely overlooked on the summer showcase circuit before his senior year.
"I always played other sports, so I was always back at home playing football or something," Jones said. "So I never really made it to any showcases. I went to Area Codes, but that's the only place I really went."
Without a lot of exposure and because he grew up in a rural area—Boonville is a town of about 8,000 halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis—the Giants were able to get Jones in the seventh round of the 2010 draft.
The pick was a surprise because Jones thought he was going one spot later, to the hometown Cardinals.
"I was at my brother's house on his laptop and I was sitting there listening and my agent called me and said he just got off the phone with the Cardinals, and they were going to pick me with the very next pick," Jones said. "I was sitting there listening and I saw them on the screen and then I heard my name called and I jumped up all happy and then looked down and was like, 'Who?'
"So I was kind of confused for a second, but the Giants called me after that and told me they picked me. I can't be upset about it. It was definitely a great honor, but I think my family favored the hometown (team), but I'm happy where I'm at."
Jones is still adjusting to the big jump from high school baseball in central Missouri to minor league ball. Where he was able to rely on his natural abilities as an amateur, when he was named Missouri's high school athlete of the year, he has found the going much tougher against elite competition.
"There's a lot more to baseball than I thought coming out of high school," Jones said. "It's completely different. You go from playing kids that aren't very good and you're always the top dog, to coming here where everybody's the top dog. It's definitely a big transition. It's hard playing every day, but I'm starting to get used to it."
Jones said the biggest challenge has been the mental grind.
"To play well, you really have an upbeat state of mind," Jones said. "Playing baseball, you really have to stay positive. Thinking about the negative stuff's only going to make you do worse."
Jones has dealt with more difficult situations than a bad day at the ballpark—his mother died when he was 14—but he's been trying to get back into a rhythm after a trip to the disabled list.
Scouts like Jones' physicality and the raw power he shows during batting practice, but question his pitch recognition and the ability to catch up to quality fastballs. His statistics so far this season back up those concerns. He had 29 strikeouts over 20 games.
The strikeouts aren't a new problem for Jones. Even during last year's impressive debut, he struck out 61 times over 46 games. However, he continues to show good bat speed to go with his present strength that promises of power to come.
"He has very good tools, he's just young and inexperienced," Trebelhorn said. "But he's pretty impressive for his age."