Adam Jones and Nick Markakis bring all the tools to O's reconstruction

The Baltimore Sun

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.-- --Adam Jones walked into the Orioles' clubhouse wearing a brown designer T-shirt, a crisp pair of jeans, loafers that matched his shirt and a silver chain, earrings and watch. Cleanly shaven aside from his thin mustache and with his hair neatly gelled into place, Jones greeted several teammates, trading barbs and laughs.

Two minutes later, Nick Markakis made his entrance. He had several days of growth on his face, wore an orange T-shirt, black gym shorts, faded tennis shoes and a baseball cap that was pulled tightly over his sleepy eyes. His head remained down as he trudged to his locker and sat down without saying a word.

"It's night and day," Jones said. "We're two different personalities. I'm more outgoing; he's the quiet type. You can't change how he is. Hopefully, I can get in good with him and get to know him pretty well and not just build an on-the-field relationship, but an off-the-field relationship, too. Maybe we'll be the Bash Brothers or something like that. You never know down the line what could happen."

Jones' last statement might as well be the mantra for the 2008 Orioles. For the first time in years, the Orioles have essentially written off a season, committing to an organization-wide rebuilding project that is seen by baseball pundits as being long overdue for a club that has recorded 10 straight losing campaigns.

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who was hired in June, says he hopes he accelerated the major rebuilding with his offseason trades of ace pitcher Erik Bedard and star shortstop Miguel Tejada. In return, the Orioles got 10 players, seven of them pitchers.

"I think the Orioles definitely made the right decision," said Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "As a competitor, we would have chosen to see them continue to try and cobble together a contender every year without establishing a firm base for the long haul. Now they have taken a broader view and have brought in some extremely talented young guys and have a chance to build a very strong nucleus that will serve them well over the long haul."

At the forefront of the team's rebuilding project are Jones, a promising 22-year-old center fielder who came from the Seattle Mariners in the Bedard package, and Markakis, a 24-year-old third-year right fielder who has established himself as one of the top young players in the game.

"It's a great place for us to have the foundation of the club for years to come, along with the nice young arms that we have," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "It's going to be fun to be a part of these guys just getting better each and every time they go out there. Jones doesn't know yet how good he's going to be, but he's going to find out. Baseball is going to find out. This guy is going to be pretty good. And I don't think there is any secret how good of a player Nicky already is."

Markakis hit .300 last season with 23 homers, 112 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. Some scouts say he could develop into a 35-home run guy and an occasional All-Star.

"He's clearly legitimate," said Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who watched Markakis hit .319 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 35 games against his New York Yankees teams the past two seasons. "He's plus-plus in a lot of areas. I'm very impressed with him."

Expectations are as high, if not higher, for the multi-tooled Jones, who is a .230 hitter in 139 career major league at-bats, but a .291 hitter in parts of five minor league seasons.

Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said Jones was the type of player baseball executives want to build around.

"[He] could be one of the best defensive center fielders in the league and hit for average and power," said Keith Law, a senior baseball analyst for ESPN's Scouts Inc. and a former Toronto Blue Jays executive. "He's a guy who, at worst, becomes an above-average player and, at best, could be an MVP candidate."

Jim Callis, Baseball America's executive editor, views Jones as one of the best young players in baseball. "He has the ability, once he realizes his prime, to be a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder who puts up 20 [homers], 20 [steals] numbers, maybe 25-25 or 30-30," Callis said. "The Orioles obviously have a lot of holes to fill, but with Jones and Nick Markakis, the outfield is in good shape for the future."

MacPhail has already tried to temper Jones' expectations.

"He's been compared to Torii Hunter and Mike Cameron, and if you check them out at similar ages, they were both having their scuffles at Double-A at this time," MacPhail said. "But the thing that makes Adam a little different is he's already had success throughout the minors. I think some of these adjustments he's going to have to make at the big league level here, not unlike Nick had to.

"You can't help but be impressed with how Nick has performed on the field, but it's going to take Adam a while. Nick had to play a couple of years to get to that stage. It is exciting, and our job is to add to that. We want to assemble as many of those type guys as we can."

Markakis and Jones have been teammates before. As members of the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League in 2005, Jones impressed Markakis with his eye-grabbing athleticism and with the ease that he made the transition from shortstop to the outfield. Markakis got Jones' attention with his natural ability, sweet swing and quiet demeanor. Before the Javelinas' first workout that year, all the players introduced themselves, and Jones remembers barely hearing Markakis when it was his turn to talk.

"You could tell right away that he was a real quiet guy," Jones said. "But he's a good dude, and the guy can flat-out play, plain and simple. He can do anything on the field. He can hit for power, hit for average, steal bases, throw guys out. He's a five-tool player. It's going to be fun playing with him."

Markakis and Jones haven't hung out much off the field this spring but have spent plenty of time talking during outfield drills.

"He's athletic, has a great bat, an unbelievable arm," Markakis said. "He has a lot better plate discipline than when I first saw him. ... He has some stuff to work on, but I do, too. Everybody does. It just takes time - experience, repetition. You just try to go out there and get better any way you can."

Ultimately, that is what this season will be about for the Orioles. If nothing else, fans will get the opportunity to watch two promising young players with vastly different personalities work side by side in the outfield,

"You have to be excited if you're an Orioles fan," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "You have a foundation now. You're looking at this thing turning around."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Dan Connolly, Peter Schmuck and Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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