Top prospect Jones sticks with it

Top prospect Jones sticks with it

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Badly wanting to play in the stadium and city where he hopes to soon be a resident, Cardinals Double-A outfield prospect Daryl Jones convinced team officials that his injured left quadriceps was 100 percent healthy when he was activated from the disabled list for the XM All-Star Futures Game in July.

The only problem, however, is that it appears the Cardinals' top hitting prospect wasn't being completely truthful. Jones reinjured his quad during the game at Busch Stadium on July 12 and was placed back on the disabled list the next day. He hasn't played since.

"That game was important to me," Jones said, all but admitting that he played the game at less than full health. "I really wanted to play in it. It was unfortunate to hurt my leg, but I don't regret it. It was a fun game, and now all I can do is sit back and get healthy.

"You don't want to miss time, but the experience, I don't regret the experience. I will just have to make up for lost time when I get back."

With the recent trade of third baseman Brett Wallace to Oakland for Matt Holliday, Jones became the Cardinals' top offensive prospect. And while he was eager to showcase his skills to St. Louis fans last month, it looks like the Cardinals may have made a mistake by letting him play.

"I think that might have been a little premature to put him in that game, and that's unfortunate because it is a great opportunity," said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. "But you'd probably give it back if you knew you weren't going to miss all of this time. I've thought about that myself, in that probably, if we could do it again, we'd just not let him play."

Jones injured the quad while rounding second base, ironically on a ball that fell over the fence for a home run. He was able to convince the powers that be that he was healthy enough to play after passing several on-field tests and even playing in a game for Springfield on the day he was activated before traveling to St. Louis. Whether Jones was actually healthy or just a good faker may never be known.

"Whether he was hiding something from us or not, I don't know," said Springfield manager Pop Warner. "But we tested him and he ran the bases and I made sure that he ran hard a couple of days to make sure there was no soreness in there whatsoever beforehand. He played in the game in Frisco before he went to the game and said he felt great, but it was just an unfortunate thing."

The injury came at a bad time for Jones, who had just rediscovered a flaw in his swing and was beginning to get hot. After struggling early in the season, Jones had his batting average up to .283 with 44 runs scored when he went down over a month ago.

"Probably the second and third months of the season, it was kind of shaky," Jones said. "But then right up towards the Futures Game, I felt like I was getting back in my rhythm. I felt really good at the plate and really good in BP.

"I just needed to get back to that comfort level that I hadn't been feeling for the last couple of months. I was really feeling good when I went up for the Futures Game."

Jones was heavily recruited as a wide receiver coming out of high school. After receiving 26 football scholarship offers from schools such as Texas, Florida, Miami and Nebraska, Jones signed to play baseball at Rice University because it was close to home. But he never made it to college, signing with the Cardinals after he was drafted in the third round in 2005.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Jones struggled out of the gate -- hitting .248 in 2006 and only .217 in 419 at-bats for Class A Quad Cities in 2007 -- making some wonder if he may have chosen the wrong sport.

"There's always those thoughts," Jones said. "But baseball is a game where there is ups and downs and you have to realize that. Those thoughts pop into your head all of the time, but that doesn't mean you act on it. It's just part of the game. I'm sure I'm not the only player that has thought about why they were playing baseball. It's the type of game where you have a good game and think you should be in the big leagues the next day, and then the next day you go hitless and think, 'Man, why am I here?' That's just the game of baseball."

But Jones continued to work, often dialing up Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus for tips and advice after the two became good friends when they played together in Johnson City after being drafted in the same year. He finally started hitting in 2008, opening the year at High-A Palm Beach but being promoted to Double-A after hitting .326 in 81 games. The left-handed-hitting Jones continued to hit in Springfield, hitting .290 with six home runs in 36 games to finish the year.

Jones' decision to sign with the Cardinals was starting to pay off for both sides.

"It's hard either way, whether I choose football or baseball," Jones said. "You don't know how it's going to work out. From the outside looking in, I can see people saying, 'Why didn't he choose football?' But it's one of those things where if you don't play baseball, you don't understand it. Baseball has always been my first love and I definitely think I made the right decision.

"You have to have passion to work from being a .200 hitter when you had a chance to play football."

Thanks to his breakout 2008 season, the hype surrounding Jones increased heading into 2009. And while the attention will only get bigger now that Wallace has been dealt, Jones is just thankful for the opportunity to play the game he loves.

"Lots of people want to be in this situation," Jones said. "I can only be thankful to be in this situation and still be progressing and getting better, especially when i struggled my first couple of seasons. That's part of baseball, learn from your mistakes and get better.

"That's what a lot of people take for granted. I hit like .200 my first two seasons, and now I am in Double-A and I am still one of the younger guys in the league. Seeing how I have progressed, it's a good feeling knowing that I have matured as a baseball player."

Now Jones just needs to get healthy. The outfielder should return to action this weekend or early next week, but the Cardinals plan to be extra careful so that Jones can remain on the field once he comes back.

"He's been pretty consistent for us all year long," Warner said. "That injury really set him back, but hopefully when he comes back, he can take off right where he left off."

B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.