With MLB Draft season, we get to look at all of the prospects in baseball and imagine them joining the Detroit Tigers. Perhaps a flashy shortstop, or a power-hitting outfielder, or a flame-throwing lefty out of high school.
Then, of course, the Tigers draft a right-handed pitcher with a 94 mile per hour fastball that's coming out of college in the southeast. And hey, look! Connor Jones fits the profile of all four of those criteria! So, we may as well get to know him, because if general manager Al Avila continues the draft strategy that former vice president of amateur scouting (and current assistant general manager) David Chadd favored, we may be Jonesing for more knowledge about him soon.
Jones comes from the University of Virginia, where he posted an impressive 11-1 record with a 2.34 ERA in his junior season. He had a low strikeout rate this year, at just 6.25 punchouts per nine innings. However, he also only allowed three home runs in over 100 innings of work, which is impressive with those crazy metal bats.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball had this to say about Jones' arsenal:
Jones features a four-pitch mix. The key is his sinking fastball in the 90-94 range, a pitch that plays above the radar velocity due to its action low in the zone. He has both two-seam and four-seam varieties to give hitters a different look and he commands both types well. His second pitch is a slider, slightly above-average by most accounts right now with a good chance to be firmly in the plus range with a few more reps. Some observers report a softer curveball which needs work but also has big league potential, though he doesn't use this as much as the slider.
It seems like secondary pitches lagging behind the fastball is a common theme with prospects leading up to the draft, so hopefully Jones could improve his standing by working on the breaking pitches in the minors. As it stands, the fact that Jones uses his fastball so much is probably the reason he's posted rather low strikeout numbers. There's reason to hope that he can improve, as the Baseball Draft Report posutlates:
He could be one of those guys who learns how to sacrifice a few grounders for more swings and misses once he enters the pro game. He certainly has the stuff to do it, so perhaps getting away from the college environment — much as I like and respect Brian O’Connor and his staff — will help him unleash the beast that is his nasty mid-80s slider more regularly. Pitch to contact is a very amateur friendly concept, which is ironic considering the fielding quality (and, in some cases, field quality) at that level. Jones striking out more batters as a pro than as a college star might not seem like the most sensible gamble to take at face value, but the theories behind it are not without merit.
The other major concern isn't with Jones, it's with Virginia pitchers. As Scouting Baseball pointed out a month ago (go all the way to 33 to find Jones), Cavalier pitchers have notoriously flopped when entering the majors. I don't know if it's fair to group Jones in with the rest of them, but it appears as though the stigma will have an effect on draft day.
If the Tigers were to select Jones with the No. 9 overall pick, they would do so knowing they have a very safe mid-rotation starter that perhaps profiles a bit like Rick Porcello -- different variations of the fastball, and two different breaking pitches that flash solid-average. He's not the flashiest pick on the board, but Jones is a likely contributor at the major league level moving forward.