One of the top San Francisco Giants hitting prospects sent to Augusta this season returned to the GreenJackets lineup Monday after an extended break.
Chuckie Jones, a seventh-round pick in 2010, made his first start in five games. Jones, 19, is the youngest position player on the team and has struggled over the first three weeks of the season, hitting .087 with a South Atlantic League-leading 38 strikeouts in 18 games.
Jones said he used the time off to regroup mentally.
“I just stepped away and really looked at how everything’s going and tried to forget about how things have went so far,” he said. “I just wanted to restart. I know I can do a lot better than what I did.”
The mental game has been Jones’ most difficult challenge. The young prospect showed his power on a highly successful GreenJackets spring training team. His troubles started when he arrived in Augusta.
Giants coordinator of minor league hitting Steve Decker joined the team last week and said Jones had lacked confidence at the plate. Jones said it was a matter of overthinking the situation.
“You get up there thinking too much,” Jones said. “That’s what I’ve been doing, thinking way too much. You don’t do too well whenever you get up there and your mind is scrambling.”
EARLY RETURN: Elliott Blair got the start in center field Sunday but had to leave the game in the second inning after running into the outfield wall trying to chase down a fly ball.
Jones was plugged in at the top spot in the lineup and went 0 for 2 with a walk, a strikeout and a fly out.
PREMIER PITCHING: The GreenJackets have faced at least six of the top pitching prospects in the South Atlantic League this season, including Washington Nationals first-round pick Alex Meyer, Mets fourth-rounder Tyler Pill and Yankees fourth-rounder Daniel Mahoney.
The GreenJackets also have faced nondrafted free agents Domingo Tapia, a Mets prospect with a 98 mph fastball, and Yankees prospect Jose Campos.
Lipso Nava, in his second year as manager and fifth year in Augusta, said the level of pitching his team has seen trumps what any of his past squads have had to face this early in the season.
“This is the most quality pitching that I’ve seen in the five years that I’ve been here,” he said. “As a hitting guy, I saw quite a few, but this year all the teams that we’ve faced so far, they’re stacked with great arms.”
IN-HOUSE: The GreenJackets entered the final day of a seven-game homestand having lost three of their previous five games and still below the .500 mark for the season. The frustrations spilled over into a few minor verbal altercations between players during the homestand, which Nava addressed in private team and individual meetings.
“It needed to be addressed by us and addressed by (the players),” he said. “We’ve already picked guys to be leaders on the team and guys to step up. That’s something that they have to learn. They have to turn the page. This isn’t college or high school. This is a place to compete and to move on and work as a team.”
Augusta entered Monday’s game in the bottom half of the league’s Southern Division standings with a 10-12 record, six games out of first.
Nava said his message to his players has been a simple one.
“Compete,” he said. “I already had my second meeting with the position players, and I said I don’t want to see any guys quitting on themselves. I hate quitters. I never was a quitter. I will never be a quitter. I hate when guys hang their heads and feel sorry for themselves. It’s going to be a grind. Nobody said it was going to be easy. We have to keep on working.”