Jones snares first Gold Glove Award
Breakout star first O's outfielder to win since Blair in '75
BALTIMORE -- Orioles center fielder Adam Jones added a fitting coda to his breakout season Tuesday, when he was awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove in recognition of his stellar defensive play.
Jones, who was also elected to the All-Star Game, established himself as one of the American League's most dynamic two-way players in 2009.
The 24-year-old distinguished himself with several catches at the wall and recorded nine assists in 2009, and the award carries special meaning because it's voted on by the league's managers and coaches. Jones had more putouts (349) than he did in 2008 (336) despite playing in 11 fewer games and nearly 100 fewer innings.
"I think it's about the opposing coaches. They're the guys that vote -- opposing managers and coaches," Jones said in a conference call with the media. "I know I missed some time, but they thought I was well capable of winning the award. ... It was a shock to me, but it shows that I left a lasting impression in the mind of the coaches."
Jones, who was acquired from Seattle as part of a five-player haul for Erik Bedard before the '08 season, helped erase some sordid recent history for the Orioles. Baltimore hadn't had a Gold Glove winner since Mike Mussina won one in 1999, and the team hadn't seen an outfielder take the award since Paul Blair in 1975.
Jones was shocked by that last fact and said that he hoped his team would begin to earn more recognition.
"It can put Baltimore back on the map," he said. "It's been kind of the hidden city over the last decade because the Yankees and Red Sox have been overshadowing people. Hopefully, everybody on our team gets recognized because we have a very good team. It's young and raw, but I think we have a very good team."
"History is a funny thing. There have been a lot of great players and a lot of players deserving of such an award," added Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "I talked to Jonesy and he said, 'I'm kind of humbled by the whole thing. I know there were a lot of people out there who were as deserving as I am.'
"But I think it goes hand-in-hand with the new Oriole philosophy of pitching, defense and giving young players an opportunity. As seasons go on, you may not see more guys win awards, but you will see more and more Orioles be recognized for their ability and their level of play. I don't think there will be too many secrets anymore. Jones is just the guy that happened to break through and break the ice for everybody behind him."
Jones ranked fourth among AL center fielders in total chances despite missing more than 40 games, and he also led all of his peers in range factor. The former shortstop joined Evan Longoria and Mark Buehrle as first-time Gold Glovers and managed to align himself next to Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki, who have won nine straight times.
Jones credited outfield instructor John "T-Bone" Shelby with helping him to learn the mental nuances of the position and said they really share the award. Jones also gave credit to right fielder Nick Markakis, saying that he was a Gold Glove-caliber defender. When asked if he's a better defender now than 2008, Jones wasn't so sure.
"It's hard for me to go back and look at everything defensively," he said. "There are things I think I need to improve on. That's No. 1: There's always room for me to improve. Traveling with us, you see the work that people put in on the field, and I think I need to get after it more. Hit it harder. Get better. There's really only one way to go. I'm not content with how I am right now. I'm happy about the Gold Glove, but I think overall defensively, I can get better."
Some analysts believe that Jones will eventually move to a corner outfield slot due to added growth, but Trembley likes him in center field and would need quite a bit of convincing to switch him anywhere else.
"I've compared him to a younger version of Torii Hunter, and obviously Torii Hunter is one of the best in the business," he said. "I see Adam as a similar type of guy, but I don't think he's done growing. I like him in center field. I think he'll get a little bit bigger, but I also think that something like this will give him even more incentive."
Jones truly made a quantum leap on offense, where he set career highs in doubles (22), home runs (19), RBIs (70) and runs scored (83) despite having virtually the same amount of at-bats as he did last season. His walk rate improved and his strikeouts declined, and Jones had surpassed his best home run total by the end of May.
Despite his breakout, Jones had a few things he'd like to change about his season. The youngster batted .303 with a .357 on-base percentage and a .481 slugging mark before the All-Star break and fell off to .222/.290/.405 after the intermission, and a severely sprained ankle cost him virtually all of September.
Still, on the whole, the year was a rousing success. Jones became Baltimore's youngest All-Star since Mussina in 1992, and he proved that he can be a middle-of-the-order power threat. Jones began the season as the No. 2 hitter -- wedged between Brian Roberts and Markakis -- but later moved down to hit third and even cleanup.
Trembley said he often heard from opposing managers and players that Jones was among the most improved players in the league, and he said that feedback only increased after the All-Star Game.
"When you play teams in the west for a home-and-home series, it was pretty evident that they were impressed with him," he said. "And it's just phenomenal where this guy was. He was our No. 8 hitter a year ago, and then he's an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner in one year.
"It's a tremendous accomplishment and it speaks highly for how he's thought of by others around the league. I think that's the key. And he's not done. This guy's going to string together a career that could be very special. I think he knows that, and the best is yet to come."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.