Texas Rangers

Rangers outfielder James Jones learning to trust his swing and speed

Rangers outfielder James Jones on swinging with clear head

Rangers outfielder James Jones, who came to the club in the Leonys Martin trade with the Mariners, worked on his hitting in the off-season (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).
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Rangers outfielder James Jones, who came to the club in the Leonys Martin trade with the Mariners, worked on his hitting in the off-season (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

He wasn’t a complete unknown, but it was close. The outfielder James Jones, whom the Rangers acquired in the November trade that sent Leonys Martin to Seattle, was told he’d have a shot at earning one of two backup spots this spring.

So far, and we’re still just seven games into the spring season, Jones has opened some eyes with his speed and production at the plate after putting in extra work during the off-season, including winter ball in Venezuela.

In 2015, he played in just 28 major league games (with 29 at-bats) with the Mariners. Jones, who was primarily a pitcher through college, put in extra time streamlining his swing. He has found a comfortable approach that has allowed him relax at the plate.

We knew he had the defensive skill set. I’m more impressed with his confidence in the batter’s box. He shows you the speed and how dynamic that can be.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister

“Thinking of less things, just keeping it simple up at the plate,” he said. “It’s allowing me to free my hands and be aggressive out there.”

Now that he’s not so preoccupied with the mechanics of his swing, he’s been able to think more strategically in the box.

“I feel cleaner mechanically so I’m more confident and focusing on what the pitcher is going to do,” said Jones, 27.

His speed, which manager Jeff Banister calls a plus tool, is evident on the base paths as well as center field.

Outfielder James Jones batted .324 with 19 RBIS, 13 doubles and 11 stolen bases in the Venezuela Winter League this past off-season.

“We knew he had the defensive skill set,” Banister said. “I’m more impressed with his confidence in the batter’s box. He shows you the speed and how dynamic that can be.”

Jones has worked on getting better reads in the outfield and trusting his speed. To do that, he’s learned to read the trajectory quickly and then sprint to the spot and find the ball again.

“I’ve been working hard at it even before camp started,” he said. “It took a lot of repetitions to make it a habit because it wasn’t a habit before. All of [the great outfielders] took their eye off it and found the spot. They knew the type of hitter at the plate and the kind of pitcher on the mound.”

Rougned Odor was scratched Tuesday because of mild tightness in his right oblique, but manager Jeff Banister said there is no cause for alarm (video by Jeff Wilson).

Guthrie goes two

Left-hander Jeremy Guthrie threw two scoreless innings Tuesday against the A’s. It was his first appearance this spring after signing a minor league deal right before camp. He’s been slowed by lower back stiffness but said it felt fine after allowing two singles and striking out one.

I knew it wouldn’t affect me once I got a chance to go into a game. It was just a matter of being safe and not pushing it to the point where it set me back more time. So it’s nice to be out there and pitching again.

Rangers pitcher Jeremy Guthrie

“I threw some good strikes down, which is probably the most important thing for me,” Guthrie said. “If I can do that consistently, I give the team a chance to make plays behind me and get some outs. So that’s No. 1 what I’m trying to do.”

Odor’s oblique

Second baseman Rougned Odor was scratched from Tuesday’s game with a tight right oblique. Odor wanted to play but Banister preferred he stay back in Surprise and receive treatment.

“No sense in pushing it,” Banister said. “He wanted to come over and play but no sense in it for me.”

Rangers infielder Rougned Odor is noticeably bigger in his arms and upper body after ramping up his weight training in the off-season (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Odor, whose upper body appears noticeably bigger than a year ago, said he ramped up the weight training in the off-season.

“I was working a little harder, more weights,” Odor said. “I’m [hitting] the same, just stronger. I worked on my whole body, my legs, my abs.”

Banister hasn’t noticed.

“He played so big last year that I didn’t notice if he wears a bigger uniform or not,” Banister joked.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister has liked how confident James Jones looks early in spring and calls the outfielder's speed dynamic (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Hoops tourney update

The club crammed in eight matches Tuesday morning as the first round of the free throw-shooting tournament winds down. In the double-elimination tournament, 59 players are being divided into a winner’s and loser’s brackets. Tuesday’s first-round results: James Jones (5 for 5) d. Sam Freeman (4 of 5); Hanser Alberto d. Derek Holland (in a playoff); Alex Claudio (5 for 5) d. Martin Perez; Anthony Ranaudo d. Keone Kela; Delino DeShields d. Jurickson Profar; Pedro Ciriaco d. Nick Martinez; Cesar Ramos d. Tom Wilhelmsen; and Brett Nicholas d. Michael McKenry.

Stefan Stevenson: 817-390-7760, @StevensonFWST

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