In today’s digital age, where countless online baseball publications employ teams of scouts to keep fans as informed as possible on the minor leagues, a player hitting .333/.395/.595 should make some noise. In the case of Bradley Jones, it hasn’t. At our parent site Baseball Prospectus, Jones has been mentioned in an article once, and it was during the off-season. At FanGraphs, there is no record of his existence outside of his player page. Baseball America mentioned him in a chat last October, but that is all since he has turned pro. He has never been ranked as a Blue Jays top prospect on any major outlet. For the vast majority of you, this is your first time reading about Bradley Jones.
Let’s back up a little. As a junior, Jones was drafted in the 18th round of the 2016 draft out of the College of Charleston. After signing for $70,000, he was assigned to the Bluefield Blue Jays and immediately turned the league on its head, with a .294 TAv, 16 home runs, and 16 stolen bases in 256 plate appearances. He played both first and third base, and although it is a flawed measurement device, his four errors in over 400 innings of play shows he is pretty sure handed.
This season Jones is playing on a Lansing Lugnuts team that also features Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, thus, despite putting up gaudy numbers, he is being overshadowed by two of the Blue Jays’ top prospects. On Monday, he was named April’s best batter in the Midwest League by Minor League Baseball, yet chances are you still don’t know anything about him. Don’t worry, because you aren’t alone. According to an MLB source, before he was drafted, only three teams had received reports on him from their scouts. Luckily, one of those teams was the Blue Jays. I figured it might be a good time to figure out what exactly the Blue Jays have on their hands here, so I got in touch with an MLB scout who has seen Jones play, as well as Lansing Lugnuts hitting coach Donnie Murphy.
The aspect of Jones’ game that the scout raved about the most was his athleticism. Although he only played first base and left field during his college years, Jones played shortstop both in high school and during his college summers. That has allowed Jones to get playing time in 2017 despite the presence of more highly touted prospects on the roster in positions he’s used to playing. Of the 29 games he’s played this season, 13 of them have come at second base, seven at third, and three at first (he also was the designated hitter six times). He’s the perfect combination of versatility and athleticism; the scout described him as a “grinder” and a “gamer”.
However, despite his defensive versatility and athleticism, what’s most interesting to me, and likely to you as well, is Jones’ offensive profile. Through Wednesday’s games, Jones had a wRC+ of 180, or 80 points above the average Midwest League batter. He’s doing that by showing off some ridiculous power from the right side, something the scout said he’s had for a while. His power is his best tool, with the scout grading it at an Overall Future Potential (OFP) of 60, or what is known as a “plus” tool. Murphy commented that what makes Jones special is that he’s, “one of the most laid back players [that Murphy’s] ever been around.” This wouldn’t seem to be important, but Murphy expanded:
“What makes him good is [that] he doesn’t let the highs and lows affect his approach at the plate. He has a good approach and sticks to it.”
Although Jones has raked for his entire career, he’s struck out a lot as well, with 27.7% of his plate appearances ending in a strikeout last season and 22.6% this year. Despite those high percentages, Murphy isn’t worried about it impacting Jones’ performance going forward:
“With any power hitter, strikeouts are going to be higher because of them trying to do damage. He’s working on getting better with his two strike approach to cut down on the strikeouts, but at the same time, also being able to do some damage if he does get a mistake to hit.”
As for his other four tools (hit, run, field, and throw), the scout graded him with 50s across the board. A player with four 50 tools and 60 power is incredibly valuable, especially at a position like second base, or as a utility player who can play the entire infield and some outfield. Of course these are best case scenario OFPs, and the list of things that could go wrong before Jones gets there is endless. To put those numbers into context, that gives an him overall OFP of around 50, putting him on the same level of what some prospect evaluators believe Anthony Alford should turn out to be. Obviously this is just one scout’s opinion, and there is clearly some disagreement among the scouting community, since no public scouting organization even ranked him within their top 30 Blue Jays prospects this season. The scout put a MLB comparison of Steve Pearce on Jones, although mentioned that Jones is more athletic.
How is Jones off the field? Well, according to the scout, pretty great as well.
“He has swagger to him. That’s who he is. He’s a laid back guy from Travelers Rest, South Carolina who just wants to play the game the right way.”
I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a player Pat Tabler and Buck Martinez will be salivating over in a few years time.
H/T to Jesse Goldberg-Strassler of the Lansing Lugnuts for arranging the interview with Murphy.