Just two drafts into his tenure as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, you can see some patterns forming as Ben Cherington makes his selections.
He has gone with a college hitter with each of his first picks and hasn’t been shy about going after prep talent to follow up, offering them over-slot deals to get them to sign.
The first of which was Jared Jones from La Miranda, California who was a two-way player in high school but settled in as a pitcher in his professional career.
Jones was the Pirates second round pick, going 44th overall in 2020 and the third overall player taken by Cherington in that draft, behind Nick Gonzales and Carmen Mlodzinski.
Pittsburgh aggressively push Jones to Low-A Bradenton in 2021 and he responded with a strong debut season. The righty posted a 3-6 record, with a 4.64 ERA in 66 innings, while striking out an amazing 103 batters in the process.
His strikeout total was good to finish in a tie with Logan Hoffman and Austin Roberts for fourth most in the Pirates system, and he was the youngest among them, pitching the majority of the season at 19-years-old.
While the ERA wasn’t an ideal mark, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) looked a lot better a 3.91. For another perspective on how dominant he was at times, he finished with a 34% strikeout rate.
He will have to improve on his control, as Jones posted a 4.64 BB/9, really struggling to find command of the strike zone at times. When he is at the top of his game, Jones overpowers hitters with his fastball that has touched 99 mph on multiple occasions and follows it up with a slider while mixing in a changeup at times.
In what was probably his best start of the season on June 27th, 11 of the 12 outs he recorded by ways of strikeouts, only allowing two hits and a walk across four innings pitched.
Jones threw 67 pitches that day against the Jupiter Hammerheads, 43 of which went for strikes. He also generated 16 swing and misses among those strikes thrown (37%) and the majority of those came with the fastball.
One thing that was impressive with Jones was his ability to mix his pitches well. He uses both his fastball and slider on either side of the plate, using the former on the outer half against lefties early to set up the latter as a backfoot strikeout pitch.
He was even able to mix in the changeup against lefties to keep them honest on the fastball to the outer half. To keep hitters even more off balanced Jones switched it up and hammered the fastball on the inner half before breaking off the slider back door.
In the third inning, Jones allowed a leadoff triple to Dalvy Rosario, as well as a walk later, but struck out the side to leave the runners stranded.
When backed into a corner, Jones comes out aggressive with his fastball, using it high in the zone to set up the slider as his strikeout pitch.
You can also see where the command needs to improve, and that was a theme throughout the season. Jones left some pitches over the plate that were very hittable and is something that he will get punished more for as the hitters he face continue to improve.
In the other clip, this one against the Dunedin Blue Jays on August 1st, Jones allowed six hits, one run, one walk while striking out eight across six innings.
Six hits across as many innings isn’t bad, but you can see where the Blue Jays were able to capitalize on some pitches left over the plate. This game he generated 13 swing and misses, mostly with the slider (nine) and the fastball getting the other four.
One thing that Jones does great is using the fastball all over the strike zone. With the velocity he has, it would be easy to settle throwing the fastball high repeatedly, but Jones uses both sides of the plate as well the lower part of the zone.
Jones has some of the most electric stuff in the entire Pirates system and has shown a great feel for pitching, more than you would have expected from a two-way player in his first professional season right out of high school.
With an August birthday, Jones will be 20-years old for the majority of the 2022 season, one he could spend with High-A Greensboro. The command needs to improve, especially if he wants to stay in the rotation long-term, and if it does Jones has the stuff that could see him get some national attention.