Cashing In the Chip
If you watch Brave third baseman Chipper Jones play nine innings and then talk to him for 10 minutes, you can't help thinking, This guy can't be a rookie. He doesn't play like a rookie, nor does he act, think or talk like one. In a year in which the rookie crop is not bountiful, it's clear that the 23-year-old Jones, who has been Atlanta's best all-around player so far this season, is going to be a star.
After missing all of last year with a knee injury, Jones was hitting .270 and leading the Braves with 30 hits and seven home runs and was second in RBIs with 23 through Sunday. Defensively, he has played well at third, even though he's a natural shortstop, and when leftfielder Ryan Klesko missed two weeks with a hand injury, Jones filled in without incident.
Many shortstops, veterans among them, have struggled when they've moved to third. Not Jones. "I've been an infielder all my life," he says. "As a shortstop, you need an arm, range and instincts—I have all of those. At third, you need an arm, but it's a position of reactions—I have those, too." As for playing leftfield, he says, "it came naturally. I've made up for my small mistakes with my athletic ability."
Obviously, Jones is supremely confident, despite having played in only 39 major league games at week's end. But he's not really cocky. "I call it a necessary arrogance," says Jones. "You've got to have that to be successful in this game."
The son of a baseball coach, the 6'3", 195-pound Jones was groomed to be a big leaguer, and now he's on the verge of stardom. "I feel I do all things well, and I'm intense about it," he says. "I've patterned myself after Cal Ripken and Dale Murphy. You can't do any better than that."
Others from the class of '95 to watch:
? Red Sox pitcher Vaughn Eshelman. He was buried in the Oriole farm system and was headed back to Double A this year—until Boston took him in the Rule 5 draft last December. Through Sunday, Eshelman, 26, was 3-0 with a 3.25 ERA thanks to good location and a darting sinker. While he was pitching in the Venezuelan winter league, his manager there, Grady Little, told him to stop killing himself with extra work and let his natural ability take over. Apparently he got the message.
? White Sox second baseman Ray Durham. A .333 hitter at week's end, Durham has exhibited his lightning speed but not the power he displayed in the minors last year. Defensively, he's unsteady on the double play, but he goes deeper into the outfield to catch a pop-up than any infielder in the American League.
?Dodger pitcher Hideo Nomo. He hadn't won in six starts through Sunday, but he'd struck out 49 in 33 innings, including 14 in one game. His unique delivery—he pauses in his windup and turns his back to the hitter—has baffled most batters. Los Angeles catcher Carlos Hernandez says hitters aren't sure "if he's going to throw the ball to the plate or into centerfield."