Yankees Magazine: Outfield prospect Spencer Jones

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For some, thinking of a 6-foot-6, left-handed baseball player conjures up images of a tall figure on the mound, not the batter’s box. Although the current baseball world has a tall guy like Aaron Judge as one of the top hitters in the league, many people still characterize tall players as pitchers.

But ask Spencer Jones, a 6-foot-6 left-handed baseball player, and he’ll tell you he always sees himself first as a hitter.

When Jones is drafted by the Yankees with a first-round pick in 2022, he’s a Vanderbilt outfield rookie who could add speed and power to any lineup. But before spending three years in Nashville, Tennessee, and a summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League, Jones was a two-way player who suffered multiple setbacks from injuries on the mound — though he never wanted to. Become a pitcher.

He was also undeniably a player who struggled in his own head early in his career, so the 22-year-old’s journey to becoming the Yankees’ No. 3 candidate (according to MLB Pipeline) included a necessary change to help He found a way to love baseball again.

Jones, who grew up playing youth baseball in Southern California, was always the biggest kid on the field. By the time he was 12, he was 6-foot-3 and could throw hard.

Arm strength has never been the southpaw’s main focus, though, as hitting the ball is a skill Jones has spent extra time perfecting. He was known from a young age for the power of his swing. His minor league team has even discussed putting a mesh screen in front of pitchers as he prepares to bat. It wasn’t until later that pitching became part of the equation.

“I didn’t really figure out what pitching was until late in high school,” Jones said. “Once I started pitching and getting up to speed, everyone was like, ‘No, you’re a pitcher now,’ and I hated that. I always thought I was a hitter first.”

It didn’t matter how good a hitter he was; pitching became part of his game, and Jones found himself on the mound regularly during his time at La Costa Canyon High School. He started his senior year as a highly touted two-way prospect with a top speed of 94 mph, and as the attention grew, so did the pressure on the high school senior himself.

“I’m very focused on ‘What’s my draft stock?'” Jones said. “It eats me up and keeps me from enjoying it.”

All the noise in his head about the draft will eventually die down when he starts his senior season with a broken elbow — the first of two serious arm injuries he suffered on the mound in his amateur career. .

Around June 2019, the Los Angeles Angels took Jones with a 31st-round pick, but because he was firmly committed to playing at Vanderbilt before even playing his first high school game, Jones held off. Go pro and head to Nashville to play for head coach Tim Corbin.

Frustration from the pitching injury would stick with him, and despite returning to baseball activity, Jones was barely able to pitch. So Corbin, not wanting the talented freshman on the bench to disturb his psyche, found other ways to get Jones involved, whether at first base or as the designated hitter.

“He’s a very athletic kid and you know he can help you out on the pitch,” Corbyn said. “But we’ve only seen glimpses of what I think will be a great player.”

When the 2020 season ended early due to COVID-19, any chance for Jones to gain some momentum was cut off by 18 games. Back home, with Jones endlessly dwelling on the past and feeling a skill gap between himself and his Vanderbilt teammates, Jones just wanted to find some playing time.

So, in the summer of 2020, he was back on the field and on the mound, playing in the UC League for the Santa Barbara Foresters. Just as he was getting up to speed, another setback hit – a UCL tear.

“I just took it as a signal that, okay, pitching is enough,” Jones said. “Focus on what you really want to do — be a hitter.”

Returning to campus with a fresh injury that required Tommy John surgery, combined with several COVID close contacts in the fall that separated him from the team for about a month, Jones felt even more trapped under the weight of mental stress since college. Charges that have been increasing since the beginning.

“I got hurt again the next year when I went back to school,” Jones said. “It’s hard to feel like you belong somewhere, especially in a team, if you can’t contribute.”

The second season, like his first, offered only a glimpse of what Jones could become, with no playing time and limited minutes. His contribution in the 2021 College World Series really proved to be crucial, as his two-out single as a backup hitter late in the ninth gave him the win against Stanford. , but there is still room for improvement before his junior year.

So, Spencer Jones headed to Massachusetts.

When Brewster Whitecaps manager Jamie Shevchik began researching Vanderbilt University’s Spencer Jones, he suddenly realized he’d heard the name before.

“I did some research on Spencer, and I knew he was a highly touted double-faced figure at the time,” Shevchik said. “So of course he was the one I went after, and when they said, ‘I’m assuming you want Spencer Jones because his grandfather lived in Brewster,’ everything fit with who he was.”

Jones, despite being a West Coast kid, spent his summers in Brewster with his grandparents, playing in their yard, taking trips to the beach and occasionally watching Cape Cod baseball with the family. His grandfather, Ben Jones, was so confident his grandson would one day play on the Whitecaps field that he told Shevchik when he met Spencer in high school. However, playing in the Cape Cod League wasn’t just what his grandfather had hoped for.

“That’s my whole dream in baseball,” Jones said. “I didn’t have a dream to play in the College World Series or the SEC Championship or do all these different things. All I always wanted was to be good enough to play in the Cape Cod League.”

So when Jones had the opportunity to play for the Whitecaps, as his grandfather predicted, he jumped at it. Along with a childhood dream come true and the excitement of playing for a highly regarded summer league, this is Jones’ chance to start over.

Arriving in Brewster in 2021, the 20-year-old is finally cleared for full-scale baseball activity, and Shevchik has put him in the Whitecaps’ starting lineup almost every day, mostly in the outfield. The goal isn’t to see what Jones can do on the floor — but to get him on the floor as often as possible.

“I think he uses it to really fine-tune his skills,” Shevchik said. “From an offensive standpoint, he became a better hitter because he wasn’t under as much pressure. I think he was allowed to relax a little bit and let those skills develop fairly quickly.”

Over the course of 25 games with Brewster that summer, Shevchik watched Jones develop into a star hitter. From lifting the ball on the backboard to gaining confidence at bat, he’s improving physically and mentally. By season’s end, he recorded 24 hits with a .312 batting average and helped lead the Whitecaps to the league championship.

“That’s where my development really started, and that was that summer,” Jones said. “I just found myself as a player in the sense that I was able to go out and have fun and enjoy it. I used to think that hitting was so mechanical that my swing had to be perfect to hit the ball. And then I’ve come to realize that … it’s more about your mind being in the moment and focusing on the timing.”

After a solid and successful baseball season, Jones returned to Tennessee and had a breakout junior season with the Commodores. Thanks to a summer in Cape Town, Jones went from an injury-riddled bench player to a daily contributor with a . 370 batting average and a . 643 slugging percentage. In 61 games in his final season in Nashville, Jones recorded 85 hits, 60 RBIs and even hit 14 bases.

His head coach saw more than just statistical growth on the field; Jones finally found calm and stability. For all the ups and downs of his time at Vanderbilt, when June 2022 rolls around, Jones is once again a highly touted prospect — this time, the player he always wanted to be.

Aside from an impressive summer with Brewster and his final year at Vanderbilt, what makes the tall outfielder such a good prospect is his power and speed combination. At MLB Combine, Jones recorded the most batted ball of the day at 112.2 mph, while also running the third-fastest 30-yard dash.

Heading into the 2022 MLB Draft, Jones’ agent told him he could be picked late in the first round, right around the corner from the New York Yankees’ pick. The Jones camp knew the Yankees’ vice president of domestic amateur scouting, Damon Oppenheimer, sat next to Corbin’s wife at several games, and she sensed he was impressed. It also didn’t hurt that Jones played for and developed a close relationship with Yankees West Coast scout Bill Pintard.

So when the No. 25 pick in the draft came along, the Yankees, an organization familiar with the reach of big, fast and powerful outfielders, saw fit to snatch Jones off the board. His former college coach sees it as a steal, and looking at Jones’ play in the first few tiers of the team’s minor league system, he’s emphasizing that claim.

After playing just three games at the rookie level, Jones was quickly transferred to Single-A Tampa, where he posted a . 325 batting average in 22 games last year. So far in the 2023 season, the outfielder has begun to show his talents on the High-A Hudson Valley Renegades roster in New York State, leading the team in hits and RBIs after the first half of play.

The mental changes Jones has made to his game over the past few years have taken him from a player who struggled to get hits during his first two years at Vanderbilt to one who hit multiple threes in the minors. player (he did it just past April 25). While Jones feels there’s still a lot of work to be done before he dons a pinstripe jersey, that fantasy might not even be possible if he doesn’t enjoy the mentality of being on the court again.

“I just gave myself a chance and believed in myself,” Jones said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Brianna Mac Kay is Yankees Magazine. This story appears in the June 2023 edition.Get more articles like this delivered to your door by purchasing a subscription yankee magazine exist www.yankees.com/publications.

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