Acquired from Seattle as part of a five-player haul for Erik Bedard before the 2008 season, Jones is one of the most dynamic two-way players in the American League. Last year, the 24-year-old enjoyed a breakout season, becoming the only Orioles player selected to the AL All-Star team and the first Baltimore outfielder to earn a Rawlings Gold Glove Award since Paul Blair in 1975.
But Jones' breakout was cut short when a severely sprained left ankle robbed him of the season's final month. MLB.com recently caught up with the All-Star outfielder to talk about Baltimore's offseason moves, the importance of Brian Roberts and the excitement surrounding this year's young and hungry Orioles squad.
MLB.com: What's the sentiment like around the team going into Opening Day? Is it different than in previous years?
Jones: This is my third year here, and the excitement has definitely changed in the clubhouse. You got an ace for our staff [in Kevin Millwood], somebody who coming in has taken a hold of the young guys the right way. You've got some veteran hitters, and we signed [Miguel] Tejada, who is going to bring his energy back. I think we have a very solid team. Obviously we play in a tough division, but I don't think that matters anymore. We can play right up there with them.
MLB.com: So no one's afraid of baseball's two evil empires -- the Yankees and Red Sox?
Jones: I hope not. I hope nobody in there is afraid. If they are, we've got to do something about that [laughs].
Obviously, everyone knows the [American League East] division we play in, it's not fun going on the road, but you got to. So we just have to do the small things to win. We're not going to sit and wait for the three-run home run. We have to make sure we have the intangibles and do the small things right in order to beat those guys.
MLB.com: The offense has struggled this spring without Roberts. How important is it to have Roberts healthy and hitting in that leadoff spot to open the season?
Jones: He's the entire igniter of the offense. He's the heartbeat. With him in our lineup, it changes everything. I love hitting behind him; I see a lot more fastballs, because he's on base 40 percent of the time. He causes a problem out there and he's a hell of a player.
I think we are going to be fine. Roberts is going to be back and he sets our lineup. When the season starts, once it counts, I have no doubt that we are going to be able to put the bat on the ball.
MLB.com: Much was made this offseason about the Orioles' need to go out and get a big bat. Still, this year's team will enter the season without a true cleanup hitter. What's your take on the offseason moves?
Jones: Every year, I'm learning more and more about the offseason operations that go on. I really don't understand when people say, "They need the big bat, they need this, they need that." I really don't understand why exactly they say that, but I think we made great moves for our team. All good moves, I believe; we bring in Millwood and [closer Mike] Gonzalez. Then you got [reliever Will] Ohman, who I'm pretty sure is going to make the team. He's good against lefties, and we got some good lefties in the East. Tejada, he's just going to bring the energy. He's bringing that leadership, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun. I love the moves so far.
MLB.com: One of the team's projected strengths is the outfield. Among Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie, Nick Markakis and yourself, where do you rank the O's outfield?
SHAPING UP THE SCHEDULE
Jones: Me and [Robert] Andino talk about it all the time. We have the best throwing outfield -- right, left and center -- in all of baseball. I would put us against anybody. We cover good ground when Reimold's 100 percent, [and] he's getting better and better out there. Pie's a center fielder, so when he's out there defensively, he has the mentality of a center fielder, so he's always going to get to the ball. We're talented, and the best part is, the oldest guys [Markakis and Reimold] are 26.
MLB.com: You've said in the past you want to be a team leader, but last year that didn't always go over so well in the clubhouse. With another year of experience, will you try to assume more of that role again?
Jones: Leadership is something that I've always had. I'm not OK with losing. I like to play the game one way -- hard. That's the way I like to play. [Outfielder] Rhyne Hughes gave me, I think, the greatest compliment. He said, "I love the way you play the game; you run out every single ball, you do everything hard." In my mind, that's the only way to do it.
Yeah, we're all Major Leaguers, but I don't think we're in the position to allow ourselves to just do whatever we want to do. We want to win, we have one job to do and I take it very seriously.
MLB.com: Your playing style paid dividends last year, earning you an All-Star berth and Gold Glove. How do you follow that up?
Jones: You do it once, you got to do it twice to make them talk about you more. And you do it again and again, that's how you become a good player and not just a one-year wonder.
I've got to get better. Just overall, as a baseball player, as a person. I think I've got tons of room for improvement, and there's no time better than the present. At the end of the day, all I want to do is play good baseball for the Orioles.
MLB.com: Are there any doubts in your mind that the Orioles will, in fact, play good baseball?
Jones: We are definitely going to compete. Our biggest thing is going to be our youth. The young guys, including myself, we have to do our part. I'm not saying we all have to have monster years, but we all have to have good solid years and just play team baseball. In the two years I've been here, we've started out good and fizzled a little bit. If we just keep fighting, keep battling, you never know what you are going to do.
MLB.com: Sticking on the top of those young guys, has it been exciting to watch some of these pitchers, such as Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman, come along this spring?
Jones: It is. I mean, just seeing what they feature here and trying to figure out what they do with it and how they use their pitches and things like that. You build on your pitching.
Our core position players are good, but we have a great depth of arms in the Minor Leagues and some guys in the big leagues. It's going to be a big year for them. Just like everybody else, we all have to step up. If they go out there and throw the innings, get to the back of the bullpen and let [Jim] Johnson and Gonzalez close the game, I think we have a good shot to win.
MLB.com: Last question: Any particular series you're excited for?
Jones: I'm just excited for Opening Day, to get the season going. I can't wait. There's a couple days, [including] April 10, [when] I get my Gold Glove. [In] June, we do go to [my hometown of] San Diego, it's going to be a wild trip. Really, I just want the season to start -- and have it all count now.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less