The Pittsburgh Pirates went high-risk-high-reward in this year‘s draft. Both of their first-round picks came via the high school ranks, as did their second-round selection. All three players have tremendous potential, but a boom-or-bust dynamic exists for almost any 18-year-old prospect.
JaCoby Jones — drafted in the third round out of LSU — is a 21-year-old with a boom-or-bust dynamic. Viewed as a potential first-rounder coming into the season, he has the raw tools to become a big-league regular. Inconsistent as a collegian, he could just as easily crash and burn.
The right-handed-hitter has plenty of speed and power, but his numbers haven’t matched his talent. He hit .338 as a freshman, but just .253 as a sophomore. This year he split the difference with a .294 mark. Jones won last summer’s Cape Cod League home run derby, but went deep only 14 times in three collegiate seasons.
His position is a question yet to be answered. Primarily a second baseman at LSU, he is playing shortstop and center field with the short-season Jamestown Jammers. Thirteen games into his professional career he is hitting .304/.333/.464.
Jones on his first impressions of pro ball: “I love it. It’s a grind, because you’re going out there every single day, but you’re also going out there every single day doing something you love. I’ve always dreamed of playing pro ball, so it’s really exciting. I’m doing what I want to do.
“The quality of play here is similar to the SEC. All of these guys are good — they’re pro ball players — but some of the SEC players are top-notch. You have a lot of hard-throwers — some crafty guys, too — and the pitchers here know the game better. But I’m used to seeing good talent. I guess I’d say it’s similar in some ways, and different in others.”
On balls and bats: “Here, you have different balls — the seams are different — and pitches break more. The ball is tighter, so there is more spin. Two-seamers definitely move a whole lot more.
“To be honest, I can’t stand the college bats. They’re dead. You square one up and the ball can only go so far. I actually like using wood bats a lot more. I didn’t really use wood in college; maybe just in the off-season a little bit. Other than that, I used aluminum all the time.”
On his power; “It’s cool that I won the derby, but I don’t think most people see me as a big home run threat. I’ve got some power — some gap-to-gap power — and I guess it’s okay that some people think of me that way.
“I’ve always had decent power. I hit a lot of home runs as a kid, in Little League. I had a bunch in high school. In college, with the new bats coming in, I could hit them in BP and once in awhile I’d run into one that went a long ways. But I’m more of a gap-to-gap guy, a doubles guy.”
On his approach: “It depends on the count and what I’m seeing from the pitcher. I look at what he’s throwing in certain counts to players who are kind of like me. If it’s an 0-2 count, I’m pretty sure he’s not going to throw me a fastball right down the middle.
“I look for his arm-slot. I watch him in the bullpen before the game to see what he does. Does his curveball pop out of his hand? Does he throw his hard slider in the dirt? If he’s wild, I’ll take a lot of pitches, but if he’s around the zone and doesn’t walk many people, I’ll attack his fastball early in the count.
“I’m always looking for a fastball. I think anybody would rather hit a fastball than a curveball. I look for that and let my hands work. Once I’m in the box, I pretty much look for a pitch over the plate and try to drive it. I tell myself I’m going to do whatever I can to hit the ball hard.”
On defense; “I like playing center field, and I played there on the Cape, but I’ve played short my whole life. I love both positions, so as long as I’m in the lineup, I don’t care. They told me I’d be switching back and forth; I’d play a few games at short, a few in center, then switch back to short. I’m sure that once I get to higher levels, they’ll put me in one position. Wherever I’m most comfortable — and where I‘m playing best — that’s where they’re going to put me. All that matters to me is that I play.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.