Jones isn't giving up hope at LA camp
Manny's signing could push slugging outfielder out of picture
MESA, Ariz. -- With the exception of No. 99, a baseball jersey number of offensive line ilk generally means a Spring Training of bus rides and "B" games, with little chance of a true big league opportunity.
Mitch Jones, wearing No. 83 this spring, knows the drill of the career Minor Leaguer and he knows that Manny Ramirez's inevitable arrival only drove his dream a little further out of reach. But he has the attitude that keeps it alive nonetheless.
"Manny's signing doesn't change my mind-set," Jones, 31, said. "I'll find a way to get in front of somebody and get my chance. I've got a belief in myself that I can make an impression if I get in front of the right people."
His locker in the Dodgers clubhouse is about 20 feet from that of Ramirez, but their careers couldn't be further apart. In a nine-year professional career, Jones has exactly two days in the Major Leagues, without entering a game, as well as parts of two seasons in Japan.
Jones is the classic slugging left fielder who hasn't convinced an executive that he has enough skills other than the long ball. He has 200 career Minor League home runs, including 35 in 385 at-bats over parts of the past two seasons that he played for the Dodgers' Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate. He slugged five home runs his first nine games back after returning from hitting .111 in Japan last summer.
The knock he hears most often is that he strikes out too much (1,048 in 3400 at-bats).
"They always mention my strikeouts, but there are guys all over the big leagues with the same strikeouts and less power," he said. "Ryan Howard won the MVP with  strikeouts."
Jones entered Friday's exhibition game against the Cubs tied for the Major League Spring Training lead with three home runs and eight RBIs. Why hasn't he spent more than two days in the Major Leagues?
"I don't know," Jones said. "It's a good question."
Drafted in 2001 by the Yankees, he said that club was loaded during its title run and there was no way to break through. He left as a six-year free agent for the Dodgers but left midway through the 2007 season for Japan and a chance to make the kind of money they don't pay Minor Leaguers.
"It was," he said, "a decision I had to make."
Even though he knew that leaving organized ball in North America would further distance himself from the Major Leagues, he never accepted ruling out the possibility, and still hasn't.
"I can't get it out of my head," he said. "Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. When people ask me if I think of quitting, I keep saying I'll get an opportunity eventually."
It hasn't happened yet, but Jones said his spirit hasn't been broken, either.
"I'm not bitter," he said. "I made the decision that if I'm going to stick around, I'm going to enjoy doing it. I'm going to enjoy the ride. I don't want to look back having spent time being bitter. That won't get me anywhere. A lot of guys' careers didn't take the path they thought. It is what it is. I've taken the mind-set of controlling what I can control."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.