Pirates fans are currently riding high off the recent MLB draft that saw them land four of the top 32 talents on the board, and five players inside Baseball America’s top 100. There’s so much excitement surrounding the most recent class that you could almost forget about the shortened, five-round class from 2020.
Jared Jones isn’t going to make you forget.
Not if he continues pitching the way he has this year, and especially the way he did on Sunday afternoon in Bradenton.
The Pirates’ second rounder in 2020, who signed for an above-slot $2.2 million to pass up on Texas University, has a 3.73 ERA in 41 innings with 63 strikeouts and 16 walks. Jones, who turns 20 this Friday, was a surprising addition to the Low-A club in late-May. He has more than shown that he belongs at the level with his performance thus far.
“He started the season in extended, mainly because of the age, not because of the stuff,” Pirates’ farm director John Baker said. “He showed the organization this fantastic work ethic and attitude. We hadn’t really gotten to know him yet. Worked so hard, showed up every single day, took care of his business, did it with a smile, was pumped up to be out on the field again, and the moment we had an opportunity to put someone in a permanent position in Bradenton, he wrote his own ticket to an affiliate, just by the way he both carried himself and had been pitching. I think you see it when he’s pitching now. There’s so much upside there, and it’s really exciting to think about the future when you think about kids like JJ on the mound.”
The bold part above is for my emphasis, and the description of Jones that follows could be a path for any player from the 2021 draft to follow. Despite receiving an over-slot bonus, and despite being Baseball America’s number 41 prospect in the draft, there is a process involved where the team gets to know a player, and the player shows what he can really do in pro ball. Things don’t always go as well as they’re going for Jones.
I can think of very few high school players who have pitched in Low-A for their pro debuts, with the most notable being 2010 second overall pick Jameson Taillon. That’s not to compare Jones to Taillon as similar pitchers, for they are massively different at this stage in many ways. It’s merely to point out the accomplishment from Jones thus far.
“He’s a challenging one in that the stuff is so good and can be so polished at times, that you start looking at him and going ‘is there any level too high for this kid?’ Baker said of Jones. “I think the first pitch he threw when he came into Low-A at 19 was 99 miles-per-hour, and it’s not a huge body. It’s not a guy you’d expect to throw 100.”
On Sunday, Jones put up his best start of the year, throwing six innings and giving up one run — a solo homer — while striking out eight. His pitches were on full display, with a fastball that sat around 95 early, but started ticking up to 97 in the late innings, hitting 98. The fastball velocity comes from an easy three-quarters delivery with a bit of a shortened arm path.
The slider did a lot of damage, with several different looks. Jones mostly threw the pitch mid-80s, and often it would have some slurve motion to it, though he’s able to throw it harder and go for a sweeping pitch, such as the one that ended his outing in the video below. The slider wasn’t consistent throughout the outing, with Jones missing high and inside to right-handers on a few pitches.
One of those instances came in the fifth inning. Jones started the at-bat with a high-and-inside slider that got away from him, then followed up with three straight strikes, including a 97 MPH fastball on the outside edge of the plate.
Here's another video of Jones striking out the side in the 6th inning, giving him eight on the day. The #Pirates second rounder last year turns 20 this Friday and has 63 strikeouts in 41 innings with a 3.73 ERA in Low-A Bradenton this year. pic.twitter.com/GSplrG6yqW
— Tim Williams (@TimWilliamsPBN) August 2, 2021
Jones also threw a few changeups on the day, using the pitch against both left-handers and right-handers. That pitch is still a work in progress, coming in around 89 with a slight, late cut arm-side, which perfectly splits his typical 10 MPH difference between the fastball and slider. Jones was heavily reliant on the fastball/slider combo for most of the outing.
I would expect Jones to remain in Low-A the remainder of the year, due to his age, and the ease of controlling innings with bigger rosters at the Low-A level — not to mention the Pirate City complex just across town if he needs a week or two away from competition.
I’d project things out further, but we don’t really know how this organization will handle Jones. He’s the first over-slot prep pitcher drafted and developed by Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington. He will be the example when Bubba Chandler, Anthony Solometo, and Owen Kellington are moving through the system next year.