. Chipper Jones is back at Braves spring training, in uniform, and the former third baseman and future Hall of Famer was as candid as ever when he talked with reporters about the state of the rebuilding team and its emphasis on restocking the organization with young talent.
He spent his entire 19-year career with the Braves through 2012. Jones, 43, was hired in December as a special assistant to baseball operations and will spend about two weeks at spring training, then help out before some regular-season home games and do some talent evaluation and special scouting before the June draft.
Jones said he’s excited about the Braves’ future and changes he’s seen since president of baseball operations John Hart and assistant general manager (now GM) John Coppolella took over after the 2014 season.
Q. You got here to camp Monday, what’s it been like for you so far?
A. It’s been nice just being able to put the uniform back on again. I don’t know many guys here. I think the most fun has been going out and looking at some of the younger players and just being privy to some of the conversations that I wasn’t privy to when I was playing, from listening to Bobby Cox and some of the coaching staff kind of break down minor league players. It’s really been a learning experience.
Q. Kind of pull the curtain back a little bit?
A. Yeah. It’s been a blast. It’s been great since I’ve been down here. This is the first home game, so obviously seeing a big league ballgame again firsthand is always fun.
Q. Do you hope to use this special assistant’s position as a stepping stone to some sort of second career with the organization?
A. I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know what this is all going to lead to. This is basically me dipping my toe in the water to see how I like it. I know that as of right now I don’t want to put the uniform back on day-in and day-out. But if an opportunity arises for me to climb the ladder maybe not having to put the uniform on day-in and day-out, that would be ideal as I sit here right now. Things could change, but I lived out of a suitcase for 23 years. I like my life the way it is right now, so this is a good fit for me right now.”
Q. This feel more comfortable than when you came in as a guest instructor in 2013 spring training, just a year after still being a player?
A. Yeah, that was a little awkward. Being used to walking into that clubhouse — me being a part of that clubhouse — the second I took the uniform off, it felt awkward. And now it gives me an excuse to be able to come down here and throw my two cents in if I see something in the cage, say something to a young player.
Q. How often do you anticipate being at home games, in uniform before games, working with hitters?
A. You'll probably see me at least once a homestand I would think. Again, it’s been told to me I need to get back on those back fields and look at some of the young players (in minor league camp). I know the Braves have a very high pick in the draft this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if I went and looked at some people that they might be looking at drafting in the future. It’s good to have a good relationship with Coppy (Coppolella) and John Hart, obviously John Schuerholz and Bobby and everybody who has a say-so. The culture and the environment is a little bit different here now than it has been in the recent past. It’s a good environment to be around and it’s one that I wouldn’t mind being around more.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk to Dansby Swanson, seems like you might have a couple of things to share with him? (shortstop prospect Swanson and Jones were both No. 1 overall picks in the June draft.)
A. I just had a conversation with him 10, 15 minutes ago. Everybody in this organization loves him, obviously. We traded for him, we gave up Shelby Miller for him. He’s a kid that’s going to hopefully play in Atlanta a long time. He’s impressed why he’s been in camp. I have not put my eyes on him yet, as far as being out there on the field, but that’s what I’m kind of looking forward to today and the next two weeks. Because I don’t know, if somebody asks me if I feel comfortable evaluating talent, I know what guys look like, the finishing product at the major league level. So, to evaluate talent at the minor league level is something that I have no clue whether I’m good at or not. I hope that I am, but we’re soon about to find out.
Q. Is it a little surreal being in the front office with Andruw (Jones), who also was hired recently by the Braves as a special assistant?
A. Yeah, it’s kind of cool. I hear Andruw is coming back down here (to spring training). I can’t wait for him to get back down here. Obviously we had some great years together and will forever be linked, not only for our
playing time but our last name as well. I think it’s great the organization — again, this is something that’s changed over the last couple of years — where Braves alumni are welcomed back in. Not only welcomed back in, but given responsibility to be able to help build this organization back up to where we’re used to competing at a certain level.
Q. Do you like the atmosphere, the vibe that you feel around here so far?
A. So far, so good. You know me, I’ve given John Hart a ton of credit for not being in-between on the change around here. I think that what he did had to be done. I think that being able to build at the major league level starts at the minor league level, and being able to draft and stock those minor league teams with good players — he’s done that, or is continuing to do it. And I think that once we get our minor league system back up to what it used to be, it’s going to continue to feed the major league level for a long period of times. And that’s what we’re shooting for. I love the changes, I love the culture around here, and hopefully we'll be able to coach these kids up and get them playing at a level that we’re accustomed to.
Q. Does the quality and quantity of minor league talent her now resemble or remind you of the type of farm system the Braves had when they were bringing up the likes of you, David Justice, Ryan Klesko and so many others of that era?
A. Well, I hope so. I hope it’s that good. You’re talking about some really good players that Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz drafted there in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, that kind of gave us the foundation that set us up for division titles and World Series and National League pennants and all that kind of stuff. That’s what it’s going to take. I hope we get back to that level. They’re stocking the farm system with arms, with good young everyday talent. I’ve seen three or four kids on those backfields that I’ve been astonished by how good they are, that they’re not at least being looked at here. Because I’d like to see them against major league pitching. But there’s a stockpile, and I think that competition that we had when I was coming through the minor leagues is now starting to show itself over there. You’re going to earn your spot in big league camp before you get it.
Q. Have you had a chance to see (power-hitting third base prospect) Austin Riley?
A. I’ve heard about him, but I have not seen him play. But I’ve seen a kid named (Ronald) Acuna who plays center field, and I’m hearing comparisons to a young Andruw Jones. I’m hearing Austin Riley, who’s probably going to be the next third baseman here. I saw a kid named (Johan) Camargo, who I was astonished at playing shortstop today. Cannon of an arm, and you can tell he’s got good actions to play the middle infield at this level. You wonder, what’s holding him back? And obviously he’s got some work to do with the bat before he gets that opportunity. There are numerous examples where kids are on the cusp of doing some really special things, and it’s going to take them solidifying it down there before they get a chance here.