Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bradley Jones: Bat on the Rise

Clutchlings Photo

     It's often easy to overlook a player.  Bradley Jones was an 18th round pick out of the College of Charleston last June, and it was easy to peg him as a bat-first, limited defensively player.  Certainly, Baseball America was not a huge fan of his overall game:

Jones draws some comparisons to former College of Charleston teammate Carl Wise--a fourth round pick by the Blue Jays last June--but his tools aren't quite as loud. He was some versatility, actually playing shortstop over the summer, but he's been primarily a first baseman and corner outfielder for the Cougars. Jones has above-average power and hit 11 home runs this spring but is a free swinger, and the Cougars' home ballpark helps hitters. Jones is a low motor player with mostly average tools and has the look of a utility type with power.

   After hitting 6 Home Runs in his first month at Bluefield, it was easy to suggest that as a college player, Jones was a bit advanced for that level.  In fact, I was surprised that he didn't start in Vancouver, but Christian Williams, who was taken in the 16th round a year earlier, was ahead of him on the 1st Base depth chart.
   Jones took off in August, hitting 9 Home Runs, en route to leading the Appy League in Homers, RBI, Total Bases, and Slugging.  That made him worth another look, but with two similar players ahead of him in the system in Rowdy Tellez and Ryan McBroom, Jones was not a player to be included in any top prospect discussions.  He was nowhere to be found in BA's Top Appy Prospects list and accompanying chat.

   Fast forward to this month, and that's all beginning to change.

   Jones, who went to Charleston as a shortstop, also played the corner outfield spots in college, in addition to 1st Base.  At instructs last fall, he spent considerable time at 2nd and 3rd in order to enhance his versatility.  That has allowed Lansing Manager Cesar Martin considerable flexibility this year to get Jones' potent bat into the Lugnuts lineup on a daily basis.  And that's paid off in spades, as Jones trails teammate Bo Bichette in Midwest League hitting, and he's near the top in most offensive categories.
  More importantly, after hitting mostly 6th in the opening games of the season, he's settled in at the 5th spot, providing protection in the lineup for his former Bluefield teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Jones has played 1st, 3rd, 2nd, and seen time at DH as he's mashed his way to a 1.219 OPS through the first two-plus weeks of the season.

   At the plate, Jones has a balanced approach.  Using only a slight leg kick, his bat drifts back slowly, and he brings his hands in tight to his body, getting his bat through the strike zone in time to consistently barrel up balls.

   h/t to @JaysBoard for the video...

   A concern has to be a swing that can be long, creating a swing-and-miss element (27.7% K rate last year, 28.6% so far this year), he is showing some improved plate discipline:

Clutchlings video/Youtube

  Defensively, Jones is at least adequate at the moment, and will likely improve with experience.  Not blessed with great speed, he has decent reactions to the ball, but has something of a crossfire throw, which allows him to unload the ball quickly after a smooth transfer, but he doesn't get a lot on it:

Clutchlings video/Youtube

   While Jones has been feasting on pitching in the low minors, the truer test of his bat-to-ball skills will come when he reaches High A and then AA.  Pitchers at those levels will have sharper command of their fastballs, and more effective secondary pitches.  For the moment thought, even though he's overshadowed by teammates Guerrero Jr and Bichette, Jones has become arguably the most dangerous bat in the Lansing lineup.  He leads the Midwest League in hits and Runs Batted In,  is tied for 1st in Homers, and is 2nd in Average and Slugging.  While there is some question as to where Bichette and Guerrero ultimately wind up on the field, Jones appears to be profiling as a super-utility guy, capable of playing a multitude of positions. The three should continue to move up the system ladder together, and it's time we start talking about Jones more as a result.
    Teenagers Bichette and Guerrero may have more remaining projection and potentially higher ceilings than the soon-to-be (in June) 22 year old Jones, but he is already proving his worth to the organization.


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