"We like what we've seen out of James Jones and really how he has allowed his athleticism to play," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said Tuesday before the Rangers' 10-3 win over the A's.
• Spring Training: Tickets | Info
Jones came up with the Seattle Mariners in 2014 and played in 108 games. He was a work in progress at the plate, slashing .250/.278/.311, but he stole 27 bases in 312 at-bats and scored 46 runs. He was a dedicated and quick learner on the defensive side of the ball. In 2015, Jones wasn't given much of an opportunity at the Major League level, only getting 29 at-bats in 28 games. He was primarily used as a pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement.
"It's kind of tough for a guy to really sink in and kind of develop a rhythm," Banister said. "This is a tough game to play that way when that's all you do. I'd much rather have guys find a rhythm, find a pace, and keep everybody engaged so they're fresh and when I ask them to go do something, they're not stale sitting over here [in the dugout]. Go play. Show us what you can do."
Jones has that chance now after getting a change of scenery, albeit in the same American League West division. Jones went to Texas along with Tom Wilhelmsen and Pat Kivlehan in the November deal for outfielder Leonys Martin and reliever Anthony Bass.
He said he worked hard during the offseason and in winter ball in Venezuela on improving offensively, and now he finds himself with a shot at a backup outfielder job in Texas. So far, he's making the most of his latest audition. Entering Wednesday, Jones has hit .333 in Cactus League play with a home run and three runs scored. He also had a pair of extra-base hits in a 'B' game against the White Sox over the weekend.
"Sticking to the game plan," Jones said. "I've been working hard at it all offseason, even in winter ball, being more consistent. Just keeping it simple up at the plate. It's allowing me to free my hands and be aggressive out there."
Jones said last year he was thinking too much about mechanics.
"I feel cleaner mechanically," Jones said. "So I'm more confident and focusing on what the pitcher is going to do."
The Rangers have noticed that improvement. And they've also seen the raw speed tool that's still off the charts.
"What I'm seeing now, I'm learning every day, logging in a book of experiences and watching James, so I've been more impressed with … the confidence in the batter's box," Banister said.
"He shows you the speed and how dynamic that can be. … Plus tools are plus for a reason. Because not everybody has them."