The Pirates have been picking lower in the draft the last few years, and this has brought on a new strategy. They’ve been focusing heavily on guys who usually meet the following requirements:
**Athletic enough to play a premium defensive position
**Either a lot of power and a decent ability to get on base, or a high average/high OBP and power limited to gap power
For the most part, this has resulted in a lot of high average and high on-base percentage guys with limited power numbers in their young careers. That’s not something the Pirates seem to be concerned with, as they either feel that the power will come for some of those guys, or that everything else will be good enough that they won’t need big power numbers.
But then there are the few players who actually do have power numbers. JaCoby Jones is the biggest case of this. He has a lot of raw power for a middle infielder, and the Pirates felt he was athletic enough to move him to shortstop from his center field/second base combo in college. The desired result would be a power hitting shortstop, which is hard to find.
Jones had a huge season last year, hitting for a .288/.347/.503 line in West Virginia. This came with a few disclaimers. First was the disclaimer that he struck out too much, at a 26.3% rate. The other disclaimer was that he was fresh out of college, and should have been playing a level higher, which only made the strikeouts worse. But the power he displayed — 23 home runs and a .216 ISO — were very appealing if he could manage to stick at shortstop.
I got to see Jones a lot this year in Bradenton, and naturally my focus was on his defense throughout the year. He’s tall has a big frame for the shortstop position, kind of in the old Cal Ripken mold from the 90s where shortstops weren’t just skinny, speedy, six-foot-zero or less players. Despite this size, Jones displays a lot of range. He excels at ranging over the middle, going behind the second base bag to make plays.
One of the problems Jones had early in the season was that he was a bit out of control. He had the range, but didn’t have the routes, the footwork, or the glove work to complete a lot of plays. This resulted in a few errors on plays that not a lot of shortstops would get close to attempting. As the season went on, Jones did a much better job. He got more comfortable with his routes, got in a better position to field the ball, and started making some very impressive plays.
Jones has done well the past two years improving his routes. He was forced to do this in 2014 due to the horrible field conditions in West Virginia. The Power have upgraded their infield this year, but last year it was very rough, and that forced Jones to charge a lot of ground balls, rather than sitting back and waiting for them. As a result, he came into the season looking good on slow grounders that he had to charge to make the play. As the season went on, he improved on ranging to his left as well and making that play behind the bag.
There is still some work to do with the fielding and funneling of the ball. And while Jones has shown a lot of improvements this year, he’s in no way looking like a strong defensive shortstop yet. Instead, he’s looking like a shortstop. And that’s a good thing, since a lot of the questions the last two years have been about whether he can stick at the position. I think he’s got a shot. He’s very athletic, and a fast player, even with his size. If the Pirates could turn Jordy Mercer into a strong defensive shortstop, then I think they could do the same with Jones, especially since he already has built a strong foundation the last two years.
Offensively there are some concerns. His strikeout rate this year was basically the same, at 26.7%. His walk rate was up slightly, from 6.6% to 7.3%. His average was down, and his power took a dip to a .142 ISO. I blame the Florida State League for this, as the right-handed hitting shortstop has some nice power, especially to his pull side. As I pointed out a few weeks ago with Barrett Barnes, the FSL has had some low ISOs across the league. The .142 from Jones is tied for 14th out of 107 hitters in the league with 200+ plate appearances.
My big concern would be the strikeouts. While Jones showed impressive power at the plate, he also had a lot of horrible at-bats, looking like a free swinger. This can often lead to better power numbers in the lower levels, but just strikeouts and no power in the upper levels. The raw power is definitely there, but the approach might limit that power in the future, which was the big concern last year, and the only concern with his power drop this year (although I still think the FSL was the bigger factor, considering his rank in the league).
The good news for Jones is that he showed some improvements this year with his defense, and he’s starting to show that he could be a shortstop for the long-term. The bad news is that his strikeouts are still there, which might take away his value as a power hitter in the future, which is what makes him so appealing at the shortstop position. He was promoted to Altoona today, and had a huge debut. It will be interesting to see how the strikeouts total up in this level, since the jump to Double-A can be a big test for hitters.
Jones got some high rankings in some of the mid-season Pirates prospects rankings. We still have him in the 15-20 range in the system, mostly due to the strikeout concerns. If he can start to cut those down, he’d take a big jump in the system, and give himself a strong chance of being a starting shortstop in the majors one day.
**JaCoby Jones promoted to Double-A Altoona. Here was the news of Jones being promoted.
**Prospect Watch: Kuhl Continues Impressive Run, Three Hits For Jones in AA Debut. Sean McCool had a live report of the debut in Altoona.
**Steve Lombardozzi Sent Outright to Indianapolis. Not a surprise here. Lombardozzi could be an option down the stretch if the Pirates need depth.
**Harold Ramirez Among Three Pirates’ Players Taking Home Weekly Awards. He’s been one of the most impressive players in Bradenton this year.
**Pirates Now Likely to Keep Pedro Alvarez. I don’t think this is a horrible thing in 2015, as they have been one of the best teams in baseball even with a lack of production from Alvarez. That said, they can’t enter 2016 with Alvarez at first base. An upgrade for 2016 that also includes an upgrade in 2015 would just be a bonus.
**Pirates One of Several Teams Interested in Zobrist. I wonder if they’re still interested after the Ramirez trade. There wouldn’t be much room for Zobrist once Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer return.
**Expect the Pirates to Be Active During Trade Deadline Week. I think they’ll at least add a reliever, if not more.
**Don’t Expect Tyler Glasnow in the Majors This Year. The Pirates just don’t skip guys over Indianapolis, so don’t expect Glasnow in the majors in a David Price role.
**Morning Report: Looking Back at the Players Sent to the AFL Last Year. John Dreker reviews the guys who went to the Arizona Fall League last year.