Mailbag: Where will Jones hit in 2009?

Mailbag: Where will Jones hit in 2009?

Adam Jones started the season in the eight-hole and wound up producing in the second spot in the order later in the year. What spot in the order do you see Jones hitting in for the majority of his career?
-- Tom C., Baltimore

Those numbers are all a matter of perspective. Jones didn't hit particularly well in the second slot -- notching a .252 batting average and a .291 on-base percentage in that spot -- but was weighed down by an extremely bad September that saw him rounding back into shape after missing nearly all of the previous month with a broken bone in his left foot.

If you go strictly by the numbers, Jones didn't really produce anywhere except the eight-hole, where he batted .321 with a .352 on-base mark in 165 at-bats. Those numbers can be deceiving, though, and don't really show his full measure as a hitter. In reality, Jones showed quite a bit of potential for someone who didn't even turn 23 until early August.

As for where he'll hit in the future, that really depends on who the Orioles have around him. Jones consistently batted .285 or better in the Minor Leagues, and he displayed plus power at most of his stops. He never showed a huge proclivity to draw walks, though, which may preclude him from batting third or fourth on a championship-caliber roster.

Jones will likely slot in best as a fifth or sixth hitter, where his batting average and extra-base power will make him a threat as a run producer. The youngster has never walked more than 51 times in a season, and he hasn't even done that since 2005. Still, you can expect Jones to take a big step forward next season and to be productive for many years to come.

Why would the Orioles release Adam Loewen? He was a very good pitching prospect and he'll probably be a good postion player. He deserves to be on the Orioles! This is an outrage!
-- Kayla B., Baltimore

Procedurally speaking, the Orioles didn't really have any choice but to release him. Loewen was going to take a few years to reach the Majors as a hitter, which all but necessitated moving him off the 40-man roster. Still, you can count Baltimore as surprised that Loewen elected to sign a Minor League deal with the Blue Jays instead of the Orioles.

Loewen, a Canada native who was drafted and developed by the Orioles, had only good things to say about the organization both before and after he elected to sign elsewhere. The southpaw was well aware that Baltimore had treated him well in his fledgling career, first by signing him to a big league contract and then by sticking with him through his injuries.

Loewen hurt himself twice in the past two seasons, coming down with twin stress fractures in his left elbow. The first one required stabilizing surgery that cost him most of the 2007 season, and the second one would've taken him 12-18 months to fully recover. That circumstance led to Loewen retiring as a pitcher and trying to revive his career as a hitter.

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Baltimore sent him to the instructional league to begin the transition and expected to sign him to a Minor League contract for next season, but Loewen surprised them by drawing offers on the market and signing with Toronto. The former first-round Draft pick simply made a business decision that brought him back to his homeland, but he did it with no malice intended.

There are two Winter Leagues -- one each in Arizona and Hawaii. There are Orioles prospects in both leagues. What are the major differences in the two leagues, if any?
-- Mark, Charlotte, N.C.

There's only one major difference, unless you want to count the Hawaii beaches versus the Arizona desert. The Arizona Fall League is regarded as a haven for nearly finished prospects, specifically upper-level hitters, while Hawaii winter baseball is more of a spot for late-round draftees and low-level prospects to further hone their games before a promotion.

Take the Orioles' contingent, for example. Baltimore has two relatively high recent draftees in Hawaii -- fourth-rounder Timothy Bascom and fifth-rounder Tyler Henson -- but the bulk of prospects there played at Class A Delmarva last season. By contrast, several of Baltimore's best prospects are in the AFL, and most of them played for Double-A Bowie.

There is one interesting sideline between the two leagues, though. In each of the last two seasons, the Orioles have signed their first-round pick late and elected to allow them to play fall ball as their professional indoctrination. Matt Wieters began his career in Hawaii last season, and after crushing two full-season leagues, is in Arizona this fall.

But instead of sending their most recent first-round pick -- southpaw pitcher Brian Matusz -- to Hawaii, the Orioles sent him to Arizona to face upper-level hitters this fall. That may indicate that Baltimore sees him as an advanced pitching prospect who could begin his professional career at Bowie, but it may just be that they wanted Wieters to catch him.

I've heard so much about Chris Tillman and how he is the Orioles' best pitching prospect. When can we expect to see him in the big league rotation?
-- Erik G., Dorset, Vt.

The Orioles want to be careful with Tillman and all of their pitching prospects, learning from the headlong rush to promote Loewen and current pitchers Garrett Olson and Radhames Liz. That helps explain why the right-hander, who was dominant for in his first season at Bowie, stayed there all season and never saw a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk.

Tillman, who was acquired from Seattle with Adam Jones in last winter's trade for Erik Bedard, was one of the youngest pitchers at Double-A last season and thrived despite his relative youth. The 20-year-old went 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA and struck out 154 batters in 135 2/3 innings, serving notice that he's ready to thrive against more advanced hitters.

He was kind of erratic in the last two months, though, notching a 5.82 ERA in July and a 4-1 record with a 1.80 mark in August. That may explain why he wasn't promoted, and why the Orioles would like to see him put in a full season at Norfolk. Still, Tillman isn't very far away, and a hot start at Norfolk may tempt the team to try him in the Majors.

Much depends on whom the Orioles acquire this winter and whether they're able to stay healthy through Spring Training and the early segment of the schedule. Baltimore would like to see Tillman dominate Triple-A opposition and force a promotion to the big leagues, and if everything goes according to plan, he's a virtual lock to join the team by next September.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.