One of my enduring memories of my one and only spring training trip — late March, 2008 — is that of being around the minor league fields the day Garrett Jones was passed through waivers and outrighted to the Twins Triple A team.
Jones was out of options. He clearly had expected to either make the Twins major league roster or get picked up on waivers by another big league team. Neither had happened.
And now he was standing on the sidelines as the Triple A infielders took fielding practice with manager Stan Cliburn talking to him. Or maybe at him; Jones wasn't making eye contact with Cliburn. He was staring vacantly in the direction of the teammates he didn't want to be with.
Quadruple A. That's a label no player wants to be stuck with. It means he's good enough to put up numbers in the highest level of the minors but not good enough to stick in the majors. And in 2008, Garrett Jones appeared to be Quadruple A.
He spent 2008 with Rochester, hit 23 homers, batted .279 and — this was always a problem for him in the minors — had a mediocre on-base percentage. He became a minor league free agent, latched on with the Pirates organization for 2009, did basically more of the same for a half season in Triple A, got called up to Pittsburgh.
And immediately started hitting like an MVP. Seriously: 21 homers in 358 at-bats, an on-base percentage of .372, a slugging percentage of .567.
He's receded this season to a line akin to his Triple A numbers, but with the Pirates, that's plenty good enough to remain in the middle of their lineup.
The Twins hardly miss him; he was a left-handed 1B/OF on a team with Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, and they're both better than he is. His numbers fall off pretty sharply against southpaws, and he's not a defensive whiz.
But one thing Jones' story — like that of Denard Span — suggests is that the environment of the Twins farm system is sufficiently pitcher-friendly that the numbers hitters put up in Rochester and New Britain may actually understate what they can do in the majors.