Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #19 – JaCoby Jones

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To recap the countdown so far:

20. Luis Heredia, RHP

We continue the countdown with the number 19 prospect, JaCoby Jones.

19. JaCoby Jones, SS

(photo credit: Robin Black)
JaCoby Jones had a huge season at the plate in West Virginia in 2014. (Photo Credit: Robin Black)

Most players don’t make the switch to shortstop from another position. Normally a player might start off at shortstop, then move to an easier position when he shows that he can’t handle playing shortstop at a higher level. So the approach that the Pirates took with JaCoby Jones was very unconventional. The Pirates drafted him out of LSU as a center fielder. He was also considered a second baseman and a third baseman. They got him time at shortstop in 2013, then switched him to short full-time in 2014.

Jones has a ton of athleticism, allowing him to make the switch to the more difficult position, despite playing mostly second base and outfield at LSU. The Pirates believe that he has the tools to stick at the shortstop position, and will give him as many opportunities to stay there as possible. The reports on his defense this year were mixed, with some scouts saying he was showing promise and could stick at the position, while others said he’s more likely to move to second base.

The appeal here is having a shortstop with the bat that Jones possesses. He put up outstanding numbers in West Virginia this year, although they do come with a few disclaimers. The biggest one is that he was a college hitter, and should have been playing a level higher than Low-A. His placement in West Virginia was mostly due to the new position. Most 22-year-old players with the numbers Jones put up in Low-A ended up as utility players in the majors, or worse, and didn’t carry the numbers to the upper levels. What also hurts Jones is his large strikeout total, which shouldn’t be happening to a college hitter at this level.

Jones is a guy to dream on. If he can stick at shortstop, then he could provide power and speed from the position. He shouldn’t be viewed as a starting option until he proves he can handle the position defensively, and until he puts up these numbers in Double-A or higher. A conservative outcome for him is ending up as a utility player who can play all over the field, or possibly a starting second baseman. There is still room to dream on him exceeding these projections. He should go to Bradenton in 2015, and could move up to Altoona by the end of the season.

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  • Lee Foo Rug Bug
    January 6, 2015 6:48 pm

    Personally, I think JCJ will top out at AA/AAA.

    • Hate to steal too much from behind a paywall, but:

      “Approach: Pull-heavy approach opens up holes on the outer half; has obvious fastball holes in the zone and can be beaten with average breaking balls on the outer half; swing is geared for fastballs over the heart of the plate and on the inner half, though he can be beaten with velocity on the hands due to length in swing; aggressive approach; likes to swing early and often. Aforementioned weaknesses will be exploited as he climbs the ladder. Limited barrel control and pull-heavy approach will be exposed by upper-level pitching. Potential to be a .220-.240 hitter at the highest level with big swing-and-miss issues.”

      That sounds like the kind of guy who absolutely could stall out against higher level pitching with the ability to target his holes. Seems like our newly acquired Sean Rodriguez would be a realistic ceiling comparison for Jones.

      • Lee Foo Young
        January 7, 2015 8:48 am

        NMR…personally, I hope that we are BOTH wrong…I’d LOVE to have a power hitting SS, but….. 🙂

  • If you are curious about his ranking – check out this scouting report published at BP last summer – http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=24421

    That seems a bit harsh, but the combo of age and poor plate approach/control likely means he is not destined for a MLB role.

  • Jones reminds me of someone like Randall Grichuk of the Cards with them both being IF/OF types and athletic and fast with power and free swingers. Grichuk was in high A at 20 and Jones will turn 23 in May. Jones will need to continue to tear it up in 2015 to remain a top 15-20 prospect. You hope to see him jump to AA at the end of 2015 to get on a track that resembles his age.

    • It’s interesting that Heredia and Jones were 19 & 20 because 2015 is such a huge year for them because it is unsure what these guys really are right now because neither of them have played at a higher org. Still I think these two guys are around 9-12 in most systems around the majors. Having incredibly skilled high upside players out of your top 10 or so is a great thing.

  • Jones should be rated #1 prospect

  • Looking forward to seeing how the rest of 10-20 shakes out. Jones was ranked 14th in PP’s mid-season rankings, I believe.

    So far it seems like Jones has been exactly as he was sold coming out of college, which I suppose reinforces the scouting but doesn’t exactly bode well for development. The swing has to improve, plain and simple. Scouts knocked it in the draft, and it doesn’t seem like he’s made many appreciable changes since then.

    Still a neat prospect to have in the system, without a doubt.

  • Interesting article about the question of whether a guy can stick at shortstop.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/when-scouting-shortstops-gets-too-subjective/

    No idea if it applies to Jones, I think his biggest issues is his age, it doesn’t preclude anything but significantly lowers the chances of Jones becoming even a regular player.

    • Loved that. Very timely for Pirate fans with Mercer the incumbent, Tucker potentially the future, and Kang entering the organization.

      Regarding Jones specifically, here’s a report from Baseball Prospectus:

      “Currently playing shortstop but does not project to play the position everyday at the major-league level; can get to balls on either side due to long strides but hands are slightly stiff and actions can be long/loud with clumsy footwork; plays a bit like a bull in a china shop at the position; grade reflects below-average defense at shortstop, but player could be an asset in an up-the-middle utility role where he plays second, shortstop, and center field; could be an average defender in center field due to his plus speed and long strides.”

      http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=24421

      Sort of the anti-Mercer.

      • Solid find, I usually read those eye witness accounts but forget about them when they are prescient.

    • I remember someone once joking that if all you did was listen to scouts, you’d think nobody ever sticks at SS.

  • You don’t see many guys at 6’3″ playing SS or 2B. Ultimately, I see JaCoby at 3B because it’s a better fit for his size, and his glove will play there, and the Pirates have no legitimate 3B prospects in the system.

  • I thought for sure Jones would end up higher on the list.

    • People look at him as a shortstop with power and speed, but he was also a 22-year-old in Low-A with marginal defense and average speed according to those that watched him. He didn’t walk enough and struck out too much at a level too low for him. He still has a lot to prove. In my personal top 20, he was three spots higher, so not sure if that is close enough to what you thought.

      • I don’t see him as a shortstop for very long, but a third baseman, absolutely. I know he was only in Low-A, but he put up impressive power numbers. I would have him somewhere between 12-15. But what I really don’t understand is how he can move to a more difficult position, be productive with the bat, and drop in the rankings.

        • His walks and strikeouts were very poor for a 22 year old at Low-A, simple as that

          • Very true, but I think too much emphasis is being put on his K’s and BB’s, when there is alot of skills be brings to the table.

            • The skills weren’t there according to scouts. His speed was rated as average and defensively, they think he won’t stick at shortstop. He has to prove in Bradenton that he can hit at the higher levels. I think some people look at BB/SO rates in the minors and think they would be acceptable in the majors, but rarely do the numbers translate to the same numbers in the major. You have to be a great Low-A hitter, or young for the level, to eventually make the majors as an impact player.

              • What about Willy Garcia then? He has a worse K/BB ratio then Stetson Aliie, has been in the system for 5 years now, and is the same age as JaCoby Jones. Yet, he will be in the top 10. Just doesn’t make sense to me.

                • I haven’t seen anyone put Garcia in their top ten yet

                • There was an article, I believe by John, that discussed how unlikely it would be for Garcia to actually succeed given his K/BB numbers.

                • Being the same age doesnt help your case, as it shows Jones lags behind most guys his age in terms of level of competition he is facing and what level he could/should be at. Both have work to do with K/BB, but Jones has the big disadvantage of being too old for his level and still struggling with K/BB. If i had to guess, you’ll see Garcia between 12 and 15.

                • Lee Foo Young
                  January 6, 2015 6:56 pm

                  Ron…you might want to pay real close attention to tomorrow’s #18 prospect.

        • I would be very happy if he ended up being a .250-ish hitting Util with power and speed.

      • He has marginal defense because he is in a new position, if they left him in CF, he more than likely would have been in Bradenton. These guys are not machines they are in the minors because they have something to work on, even when they get to the majors they have something to work on, did Pedro ever stop or even slow down his strikeouts in the majors? as an example. The strikeouts are alarming in baseball today IMO, but major league baseball does not want to take an approach that would reduce the strikeouts, they could slow them down if they wanted to.

        • You misread what I wrote if you think I was knocking him for his defense. Some scouts don’t think he is a shortstop, which is a lot more value than whatever position he ends up at, so that knocks down his ranking. The fact that he didn’t get called up to Bradenton doesn’t change his poor plate patience

          • I won’t debate that he has poor plate patience, but that is rather common with young players, especially ones with big swings. He only played 15 games for Jamestown, so he was not likely to jump from Jamestown to Bradenton. The fact that they did not move him to Brandenton part way through the year kind of points to his defense.
            Steamer at Fangraphs paints a very bad picture of Jones in 1015. If his offense goes the way they think it will go, he won’t have to worry about his defense.
            2014….288-.347-.503-.381
            2015….188-.222-.275-.223
            He is a 4-5 tool player, I have a hard time believing he is going to fall off a cliff.

            • “…but that is rather common with young players…”

              No, it is not. At least not for young players that go on to be Major Leaguers.

              http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/11/4/4812832/success-rates-for-single-a-league-prospects-based-on-walk-and

              “Steamer at Fangraphs paints a very bad picture of Jones in 2015.”

              Steamer projects Major League equivalents for prospects.

            • “2015….188-.222-.275-.223” How can they possibly project numbers like that? Seems a little ridiculous to me.

            • As NMR points out below, its common with young players that often struggle to make a solid career in the majors. You can find examples, but the majority of players that see these kinds of troubles with K and BB rate often end up more as bench options than solid starters. Right now, his defense isnt the biggest red flag he has. Its he average speed and poor discipline while playing at a level that should be considered below him age wise. Making a jump to AA has made more than a few guys seem to fall off a cliff thanks to greatly increased talent.

            • Lee Foo Young
              January 6, 2015 6:57 pm

              4-5 tool player? Really? Based on what tool scale?

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