The speculation leading up to the draft suggested the Yankees would be selecting the “left-handed version of Judge” because of his big bat, effortless swing, and ability to play an impressive right field for his size.
But perhaps some fans missed important details on Jones … like the fact he underwent Tommy John surgery two years ago and was a top-notch two-way player in high school before two elbow injuries halted his pursuit of a career in pitching.
Jones revealed that information on Twitter a few hours before the draft, which explains a lot! It could partially explain why he spurned the LA Angels in 2019 (after being selected in the 31st round). Most notably, however, it provides context for his abbreviated 2020/2021 seasons (and struggles that resulted).
Though Jones rebounded with an impressive showing in the Cape Cod Summer League in 2021, his first 48 games with Vanderbilt were not good. He tallied just 3 homers and 13 RBI with a .737 OPS. That’s nowhere close to first-round pick material — even if it was at Vanderbilt in the tough SEC.
But then came 2022, which was the customary “Two Years Removed From Tommy John and Ready to Dominate” campaign. That’s usually the timetable for pitchers, but position players have also famously suffered from the lengthy rehab.
The Yankees drafted Vanderbilt OF Spencer Jones at the perfect time
This past season at Vandy, Jones hit .370 with a ridiculous 1.103 OPS, 62 runs scored, 12 homers, 60 RBI and 14 stolen bases in just 61 games. He was also hit by eight pitches (impressive!). Whine about the 64 strikeouts all you want — which we’ve seen nitpicked by some analysts — but that is seriously impressive production from the 21-year-old.
Additionally, 2022 was the first times Jones wasn’t bounced around different positions. In 2020 he was used in left field, right field and at first base. In 2021, he saw time in center field. This year? All right field, and it may have played a role in his expedited development following a slow start to his collegiate career.
With his career as a pitcher fully in the rearview and the after-effects of his surgery having been worked through, it’s not farfetched to think Jones could be a fast-riser in the Yankees system. Just look at Judge, who was drafted in 2013, made his pro debut at Single-A Tampa in 2014, and made his MLB debut in 2016.
What about the Yankees’ last few first-rounders? Anthony Volpe (2019), Austin Wells (2020) and Trey Sweeney (2021) all remain the talk of the farm system for their work since joining the organization.
With Jones back to tearing the cover off the ball in the best conference in college baseball, the Yankees couldn’t possibly have aligned his transition to pro ball any better.
And if he eventually becomes a two-way player? We’ll take it as a bonus.