Braves' other Jones having spring jam
Athletic outfielder raking after poor Grapefruit League last year
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Brandon Jones has a knack for masking his emotions. There were no apparent signs of disgust when he squandered an opportunity to make last year's Opening Day roster.
Nor has there been any indication that the Braves outfielder has enhanced his excitement level while tearing up the Grapefruit League over the past couple of weeks.
"He's quiet," Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said. "He'll laugh, but you have to get on him though."
While first indications might hint that Jones is painfully shy, teammates have come to understand that they can have some fun with the 25-year-old outfielder, who is hitting .400 with 12 RBIs -- tied for the team high with Matt Diaz -- in Grapefruit League play.
Over the past week, much of the banter has centered around the fact that Jones told Greg Norton that he could easily complete a two-hand dunk of a basketball. Since making a wager with Norton, the young outfielder used a bad back and a cold as reasons that he hasn't yet proven his claim.
"I haven't done it yet," Jones said. "I have to do it before Spring Training is over, and I will."
Continuing their attempts to have fun with Jones, many of the Braves have gained the mind-set that the 6-foot outfielder isn't capable of completing the dunk, which he says he performed during the offseason.
"He's overweight now, and he's all about baseball now," Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez said with a smile. "That's a good thing for baseball. But that's not a good thing for dunking."
While Jones hasn't necessarily come to camp with a greater determination this year, he has seemingly developed a relaxed sense of confidence that wasn't present when he hit just .211 in 19 Spring Training games last year.
|"I'm definitely feeling good at the plate right now."|
|-- Brandon Jones|
"Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself," Jones said. "This year, I just wanted to go out there and play like I always have, and I'm having a good spring so far."
Jones started the 2008 season with Richmond and didn't get his first call to the Majors until June. The left-handed bopper ended up hitting .267 with a .397 slugging percentage in 41 games with Atlanta.
"I wouldn't say I was nervous last year," Jones said. "I was thinking about a lot of stuff, instead of just going out there and playing. This year, I'm enjoying myself."
After recording six hits in his first 21 Grapefruit League at-bats, Jones seemed to find a groove. Entering Sunday afternoon's game against the Mets, he had recorded 10 hits in his previous 19 at-bats.
"He came into camp trying to do too much, and the last couple of weeks he's swinging the bat like Brandon can do," Pendleton said.
Even with his recent success, it appears that Jones will begin this season in Triple-A Gwinnett's outfield. But when he heads to the Minors, he'll do so knowing that he at least took advantage of the opportunity to prove he can be better than he was last year.
"I'm definitely feeling good at the plate right now," Jones said. "I'm just going out there and playing and letting everything else take care of itself."
Now that he's shown that he can swing the bat, the only thing Jones has to prove is that he can complet that two-handed dunk.
"We don't care how he does it," Pendleton said, "we just want to see it get done."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.