When building your supporting cast, finding a few breakthrough candidates is paramount to your success. Hopefully your studs perform as they should and your late round sleepers find a way to outshine their draft positions, but on the chance that something goes awry, having some middle round breakthroughs could be the difference between winning your league and being an also-ran. Drafting Orioles center fielder Adam Jones would be a great place to start.
Jones is by no means a hidden gem in fantasy baseball. He was a highly touted prospect in the Mariners system, offering a nice blend of both power and speed, and was the key piece going to Baltimore in the trade that sent Erik Bedard to the Pacific northwest. He was just 22 years old when he debuted in center for the Birds and although he had his share of struggles and some injuries, the potential was evident.
The following season, he took a strong step forward. He increased his miniscule walk rate, lowered his strikeouts and increased his power with 10 more home runs and a .180 ISO that was 50 points higher than the year before. He also maintained his double digit steals and increased his batting average as well.
Though 2010 looked more like a step back — less walks, more strikeouts, same power production but in 102 more plate appearances — you can look at it as a young ballplayer merely finding his way. Sure, his overall totals showed little improvement, but it was nice to see him lower his GB/FB and start legging out more infield hits. He also saw his BABIP stay in the range of his career totals and he had a slight increase in his LD%. Not the most noticeable improvements, but progress nonetheless.
Then 2011 rolled around and Jones showed us all that he learned his lessons form the previous years and was ready to put it all together. He still couldn’t draw a walk to save his life, but he brought the strikeouts back down while still swinging at more than half of what came his way. He just seemed to have a better understanding as to how pitchers were handling him and his adjustments proved successful. He popped 25 home runs in fewer plate appearances than the year before and also rang up 26 doubles and a pair of triples to give him a career high .185 ISO mark. All that plus he continued to hit .280 and brought his stolen base total back up to double digits.
Now we come into 2012 with even more hope and expectations. He’s definitely grown over these last four seasons and is still just entering his prime years here. Jones will be 26 years old this season and should be taking his game to the next level. Yes, most people earmark 27 as the year to do it, but Jones already has four full seasons under his belt and we’ve definitely seen a change where plenty have begun their peak at 26 when they enter the majors at a younger age.
Jones is also, in a way, playing for a contract. He signed just a one year deal and still has one more year of arbitration ahead, but would very much like for the O’s to pony up a nice long term deal for him. If they don’t and he goes to arbitration, then he is going to want to produce a season worthy of a high figure and then take that into free agency. If money isn’t the best motivator…
His ADP is currently at 74.96 (mid-6th round in a 12-team league), so he’s not coming at a bargain rate. Although, if he continues his growth and stays on the path that he’s on, then he will certainly out-earn that draft position. Improving hitter who bats cleanup, has solid lineup protection and plays in a hitter’s park? I’m sold. I drafted him in the KFFL Experts League and used my pick in a supplemental draft for my primary keeper league to grab him. I’ll be reaping the benefits all season long. Will you?
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at email@example.com