Garrett Jones came out of nowhere to hit 21 home runs in 84 games as a 28-year-old rookie with the Pirates last season. Because he spent 11 seasons in the minor leagues, including five at Class AAA, it was easy to think the right fielder could disappear this season just as easily as he burst on to the scene in 2009.
While Jones may yet prove to be a one-year wonder, he certainly looked anything like a fluke Monday afternoon as he hit two home runs, drove in three runs and score runs in leading the Pirates to an 11-5 victory over the Dodgers on opening day at PNC Park.
"People continue to question him and I don't know why," Pirates manager John Russell said. "This guy is a good baseball player. He does a lot of things right."
Jones hit .293/.372/.567 with a .322 TAv in 358 plate appearances last season, getting the chance to play regularly after the Pirates traded Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals on June 30. Prior to that, Jones' major-league experience consisted of 84 plate appearances in three separate stints with the Twins in 2007.
PECOTA isn't so confident that Jones can extrapolate his 2009 numbers over a full season's worth of plate appearances in 2010. It projects him to hit .252/.321/.437 with 23 homers in 566 at-bats. However, Jones' teammates think he is capable of more.
"He's a guy that's dangerous," catcher Ryan Doumit said. "With one swing of the bat, he can be a game-changer. It's nice having a guy like in our lineup."
Jones hit a two-run shot in the first inning off Vicente Padilla to tie the score 2-2, a drive to right field that travelled an estimated 456 feet and bounced into the Allegheny River. Jones then hit a solo shot to the opposite field in left in the third to put the Pirates ahead for good, 3-2.
After becoming the sixth Pirates player to hit two home runs in an opener, joining Dale Long (1956), Richie Hebner (1973), Willie Stargell (1974), Andy Van Slyke (1990) and Xavier Nady (2008), Jones was showered with chants of "MVP!" when he stepped into the batter's box in the fifth inning. It was pretty heady stuff for a guy who had literally spent his entire adult live in the minor leagues until last summer.
However, Jones realizes he has got a long way to go to wrest the MVP from two-time reigning award holder Albert Pujols.
"I've just got to try to stay consistent and keep the same approach," Jones said. "It's good to get off to a good start and I felt comfortable at the plate going into the first game. It's definitely good to be noticed when you're trying to help the team win."