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Mariners Tab Aztecs Recruit

June 3, 2003
By Susan Wade

SEATTLE--Tony Gwynn or Edgar Martinez?

It's a toss-up which major league star will influence Adam Jones, the Mariners' supplemental first-round pick (37th overall) of the 2003 draft.

The Mariners, who had forfeited their opening-round selection to the Diamondbacks by signing free agent Greg Colbrunn, received a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds as compensation for failing to sign John Mayberry Jr., last year's first-round choice. Mayberry instead is attending Stanford.

Jones was especially attractive because he has excelled for San Diego's Morse High at shortstop and as a righthander whose velocity has peaked at 96 mph.

He made a commitment last December to San Diego State, where Gwynn, the former Padres hero, is now the head coach. But Gwynn's popularity in San Diego might not be enough to hook the prep player Baseball America rated 47th among the top 100 prospects and 24th among pitchers.

Jones said he follows the Mariners, particularly Martinez, the DH and two-time American League batting champion.

"He's steady. I want to be just like that," Jones said before leaving with his Tiger teammates for the state semifinal prep playoff game, which was scheduled to start at Rancho Bernardo that afternoon. "I focus on where he hits the ball--where on his bat he hits it and where it goes."

But would he pass up the chance to play college baseball for Gwynn and use the full-scholarship offer from the Aztecs? "I'm really eager to sign," Jones said. "It's not going to be long and drawn out."

However, he did leave himself some wiggle room when asked if he could easily pass up the chance to learn from Gwynn: "I'm not 100 percent going to say that."

Gwynn said he understands.

"He's a baseball rat. He eats, sleeps, drinks, lives baseball," the coach said. "His dream is to play in the big leagues, and he meets a lot of the criteria. He brings a lot to the table. He's wise beyond his years. But what grabbed us the most was how he loves the game. That's the first thing that grabbed me."

Gwynn said he expected Jones to be among the first selections. He said he had seen the article in the draft-day issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune that said some scouts predicted Jones could go as late as the fifth round. "I was liking that, myself," Gwynn said with a laugh. He knew better, though. And he understands the process.

"It's not my decision. It's up to Adam," Gwynn said. "I let all these kids know when we recruited them that when it came down to the draft, if they were drafted, it would be a decision only they can make.

"I can't compete with major league teams and contracts for lost of money," he said. "And a supplemental first-round pick . . . That's a pretty good chunk of change right there." Jones said he will be represented by Los Angeles-based Diamond Talent.

Jones, interrupted from his art class at Morse High to receive the news of his selection, said he wasn't surprised the Mariners chose him. Tim Reynolds, Seattle's California scout, spoke with him the night before and indicated the organization's interest. He said it was his understanding the Angels also might call his name on draft day.

The versatile 6-foot-2, 185-pound athlete said he thought the Mariners are looking at me as both a pitcher and shortstop. "I can be like Trevor Hoffman," he said, referring to the Padres closer, who began his professional career as a position player in the Reds organization. "I can play shortstop for the first two or three years, then if they aren't impressed with my bat, they can put me on the mound. That really wouldn't bother me at all."

Mariners farm director Benny Looper said the Mariners won't consider him a pitcher--"not to begin with." They'll want the everyday bat, which produced a .392 average in his junior season when he was a second-team all-CIF selection, and a .407 average this season as he led his team to a 20-10 season and its second Eastern League championship in three years.

Heading into that loser-out playoff game at Rancho Bernardo, Jones, a switch-hitter, had 14 extra-base hits, 27 RBIs, 25 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.

Matt Cleek, Jones' coach at Morse, compared his star player's talent to that of Mariners first baseman John Olerud. Cleek pointed to the fact Olerud, Baseball America's College Player of the Year for 1988, was an excellent hitter who was 12-1 as a pitcher. He said Olerud, like Jones, could have made the major leagues either way.

Jones has expressed his preference for playing every day. But he also has said he'd go whichever route to the big leagues was quickest. He knows he is blessed with options. And self-assurance.

The Union-Tribune told a story that illustrated that kind of confidence Jones has. Early in the high-school baseball season, Jones was preparing to pitch the final inning of a tournament championship game in which his Morse team easily was in command. He asked Cleek, "Do you want me to get them out on three pitches or can I strike out the side?"

The question kind of startled Cleek, who replied, "Sure, whatever you want to do." Jones struck out the side.

"We always joke and clown around," Cleek said after Jones was drafted. "He has a lot of personality. He's always playing practical jokes on the other players. He lightens the load on the team."

He might lighten the Mariners' wallets before this summer's over, too.

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