Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Natural: Braves' Jones Makes It to Majors Early

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Natural: Braves' Jones Makes It to Majors Early

Article excerpt

At age 19, it's obvious that Andruw Jones has a lot to learn.

He doesn't comprehend the odds against someone from a remote island in the Caribbean making it to the major leagues. He doesn't realize that teen-agers aren't supposed to be called up by the defending World Series champion in the middle of a pennant race. He doesn't understand that towering homers off established pitchers shouldn't be happening a full year and a half before he's able to drink legally.

"I don't think he's got any fear," said Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz, marveling at his own version of Roy Hobbs. Hobbs was "The Natural," a fictional character of mythical talents who was discovered among the cornfields of the Midwest. Jones is the real thing, from the tiny island of Curacao, which hugs the Venezuelan coast. It's hardly a baseball hotbed, but the Braves just happen to have a scout who lives there. Jones signed with the Braves in July 1993, a few months after his 16th birthday. Within a year, he already was starting to take on Hobbs-like qualities with his powerful wrists, dazzling bat speed, strong arm and leadoff-man speed. "Even at 17, he was a man amongst boys," recalled Braves shortstop Chipper Jones, who played with him in the instructional league after the 1994 season. Andruw Jones made it to the majors after fewer than three seasons in the minors, still eight months shy of his 20th birthday. In his first 37 at-bats with Atlanta, Jones hit four homers, including two off Pittsburgh's Denny Neagle, one of the better pitchers in the National League. Despite moving from center to right field just a month ago, Jones made several spectacular catches soon after he joined the Braves. Some say he will be baseball's next big star, on par with Ken Griffey or Barry Bonds. But Jones shrugs off the expectations. "I just do the things I've got to do to do my job, just work hard and try to stay with the team every year," he said. After that stint in the instructional league as a 17-year-old, Jones spent the 1995 season at Class A Macon. He hit .277 with 25 homers, 100 RBIs and 56 stolen bases, making him the hottest prospect in the game. …

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