Jones' appreciation for the game's subtleties is readily apparent. When he hits a routine comebacker to the mound, he hustles down the line with the urgency of someone desperate to make the team. Manager Dave Trembley took note Sunday when Jones stepped to the plate with a runner on second base and nobody out against Washington and tried to hit the ball to the opposite field. Jones failed to advance the runner, but at least his heart was in the right place.
Orioles coach John Shelby, who works daily with Jones in the outfield, sees a young player with the discipline to address his shortcomings. Jones was a shortstop until 2006, so he's still learning how to approach fly balls over his head and knucklers hit directly at him.
"The one thing I love about him is, when you talk to him, he's all ears," Shelby said.
Jones describes himself as a born "observer," and he's not averse to turning the mirror inward. He takes offense to quick and easy characterizations, and he debunks them with refreshing candor.
"I hate it when people say, 'Look at all the stuff you've done,'" Jones said. "Well, I did it in Triple-A. When I got an opportunity in the big leagues last year, I hit .246. I didn't do everything I could with the opportunity I had.
"I don't like it when people hype me up too much, because all hype does is make for a bigger fall when you don't succeed. I knew I'd get attention when I came here, and I don't mind answering questions. But sometimes I just like to fit in. You have to honor the veterans in this game. Baseball is one big circle, one big family, and the younger brother always has to honor the older brother. That's how I look at it."
Lots of prospects today grow up with expensive batting gloves, private hitting lessons and swelled heads from all the attention, but that's not Jones' world. He was born and raised in idyllic San Diego, but it wasn't the La Jolla, Delmar, Coronado Island paradise you read about in travel brochures. Jones lived on the city's gritty southeast side and saw his share of crime during the day while falling asleep to the accompaniment of police sirens at night.
Jones credits his older brother, Anson Wright, with keeping him humble and focused on his studies and the right path in life. He signed a letter of intent with San Diego State and was prepared to play college ball until Seattle chose him with the 37th overall pick in the 2003 draft and gave him a signing bonus of $925,000.
During Jones' ascent through the minors, scouts and talent evaluators tossed out comparisons to Eric Davis, Torii Hunter and Mike Cameron. He's a fast and gifted, African-American center fielder with power, so the knee-jerk assumptions apply.
"They put all the brothers in the outfield," said Payton, only half-jokingly.
So what do the comparisons tell us? In large part, history shows that it's hazardous to expect too much, too soon.
When Cameron was 22 years old, he hit .249 for Birmingham in the Double-A Southern League. Hunter was in his second tour with New Britain in the Eastern League, and Davis hit .224 in a third of a season in Cincinnati.
Jones has 43 strikeouts and six walks in his brief exposure to the big leagues, and he's been successful on only 65 percent of his stolen base attempts in pro ball. Those are two obvious areas in need of improvement.