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All-Star Andruw reaching elite level

Andruw taking it to the next level

DETROIT -- When Gary Sheffield was with the Braves, he marveled at Andruw Jones' enormous talents and told others to be patient regarding the development of the Gold Glove outfielder.

Now that Jones has displayed prolonged dominance over the past month, Sheffield smiles with sibling-like pride and hopes that his former teammate has finally realized the enormous potential people have tagged him with for so many years.

"He's showing what he's all about," Sheffield said. "He knows he has to do what he's doing for his team to win. That just proves what Andruw is all about."

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Without Jones' 15 homers and 36 RBIs over a recent 29-game span, the Braves wouldn't have entered the All-Star break just 2 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the National League East race. Instead, they would have likely performed much like most other teams that possess 10 rookies.

"He's carried his team," Sheffield said. "It's just amazing what he's doing, and he's done it in a short period of time."

When Sheffield arrived on Sunday night for this week's All-Star Game, he quickly found John Smoltz and wanted to talk about Jones, whose 27 homers tie him with the Cubs' Derrek Lee for the Major League lead.

When Sheffield was in Atlanta during the 2002 and '03 seasons, Jones compiled 35 and 36 homers, respectively. While impressive, the current Yankees outfielder knew the potential hadn't yet been reach. He would always tell the young outfielder that he should be hitting closer to 50 home runs and not producing batting averages that rested around .260.

Jones understood and respected some of those motivational messages that Sheffield continues to provide via regular telephone conversations. It was part of his reasoning for working so hard this offseason. He came to camp with a sense of maturity and a wider stance that has enabled him better plate coverage and ultimately has made him more disciplined.

"He's under a humongous expectation nightmare of what he should be doing versus what he is doing," Sheffield said. "I think this quiets the critics a little bit. He is only 28 [years old]. You think he's 38 [years old] based on the number games and years he's played."

When Jones hit home runs in both of his first two career World Series at-bats at Yankee Stadium, it was Game 1 of the 1996 Fall Classic and he was just 19 years old. Since then, he's earned seven consecutive Gold Gloves and shown the ability to be very inconsistent. He batted .303 in 2000, but hasn't produced a batting average of .277 since.

"For him, it seemed like early in his career, just hitting the home runs was enough," said Brewers manager Ned Yost, who is on this year's National League coaching staff. "He didn't really care about his average or RBIs. I think he realizes now that if [he] spreads out and drives the ball into the gaps, [he] can be a more complete and more dangerous hitter."

Jones' recent surge hasn't been all power related. In the final 25 games before the All-Star break, he hit .329 (31-for-94) and drew 18 walks. During April and May combined, he drew just 16 walks.

All-Star Game 2005

Further proving his gained maturity and desire to be a leader, Jones insists on giving his teammates credit. The emergence of rookie outfielder Kelly Johnson and reappearance of speedy shortstop Rafael Furcal have certainly helped give him more RBI opportunities.

"It's not just me doing it all, it was the team," Jones said.

But across the Majors, people realize that much of the Braves' success has come from the evolution of a man who could develop into one of the game's best offensive threats.

"Andruw has made great strides as a hitter," said Yost, who was a Braves coach from 1991-2002. "He's always had the capability of getting into that next level as a Major League hitter. That next level is the top level -- the elite top hitter."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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