WAPPINGERS FALLS, NY – It likely won’t be long now.
For the time being, Spencer Jones is calling Heritage Financial Park home as a member of the Hudson Valley Renegades, but it seems like only a matter of time before the No. 25 overall pick in last year’s MLB Draft makes his way up to Somerset.
One of the Yankees top prospects – MLB Pipeline has him ranked at No. 3 in the system behind current Patriots stars Jasson Dominguez and Austin Wells – the 6-foot-7, 225-pound outfielder brings a unique profile to the organization with his size and athleticism. And while many have tried to compare him to Aaron Judge, Renegades manager and former big-league closer Sergio Santos had another impressive name in mind.
“To me, he kind of reminds me of like a Josh Hamilton kind of player, which isn’t bad,” Santos said through a smile.
“When it comes to ability, Josh Hamilton is one of these guys where it’s the same kind of thing. Spencer Jones mishits a ball (opposite) field and it’s a home run or he hits it really, really hard. Very athletic, great speed. So, I see a player like that, more so than a (Aaron) Judge.”
It certainly isn’t that Santos is saying Jones can’t reach Judge-like levels, but more that comparisons to the latter are unfair to such a young player, one who was somewhat off the radar even in his first two years of college baseball at Vanderbilt University.
The path to get to this point for the Encinitas, Calif. native seemed to mostly start with a monster junior year in which he skyrocketed up draft boards by hitting .370 with 12 home runs and 60 RBI.
“It was a lot of the approach to what I was doing,” Jones said. “I used to do a lot of things and not really understand why I was doing it or what the purpose was, and then that year was just a lot more intentful as far as preparation, strength, nutrition, that kind of stuff. I kind of learned that I had a pretty good foundation, and it was taking what I have and running with it, not worrying about what people thought or what was going on, and just going baseball.”
Jones credited a good summer with his grandparents as well, one that gave him some much-needed perspective on staying in the moment, enjoying the games and just having fun. He said learning from them was “special” and got him to a point where he could just go out, play baseball and not have to worry about much else.
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It’s that type of measured, mature approach that impressed many in the Yankees organization, as they reportedly gave him a slot-value $2.9 million signing bonus. He reported shortly thereafter to the Florida Complex League in Tampa, where Santos was then the manager.
“He’s one of these very special talents that you get once in a while,” Santos said. “Just with his power, his speed, his demeanor, professionalism, work ethic, he kind of has that combo where he has all the ability plus all the other intangibles that kind of make superstars superstars.”
After a brief three-game stay in the FCL, Jones was assigned to the Low-A Tampa Tarpons, and between both spots, hit right off the bat, putting together a .344 average, four homers and 12 RBI in his first 25 professional games.
“For me, personally at that time, I just knew I was only going to be there for a month, so it was just to keep doing what I’d been doing in the past and see how it applied,” Jones said. “The goal in the offseason was to learn from the results and feedback that I got, so I applied what I was doing at Vanderbilt into pro ball, and then from there, there’s little things and little tweaks you have to make to mechanically to get to that next point.”
Jones has been something of a polarizing figure in the scouting community, with some suggesting he’s already the Yankees’ best prospect, while others take a far more cautious approach to a player who still has yet to reach 250 professional at-bats.
It may all just depend on when you see him, as he’s been somewhat streaky to start the year in High-A with Hudson Valley, something he isn’t afraid to acknowledge.
“It’s all just baseball, right,” Jones said. “There’s good weeks and bad weeks. I was lucky to start with a good week, and then got hit with a tough couple games, tough week or two, and then you just get right back to it. It’s all part of it, I’m just figuring out how my body feels with a routine and all that kind of stuff, and then just going along with it.”
He has, however, provided some highlight-reel moments this far for the Renegades, connecting for seven home runs, which is good for a tie for second-best on the team with Spencer Henson, behind only former Patriots outfielder Aaron Palensky. Some of those shots have been of the tape-measure variety, however, as the left-handed hitting Jones has been making adjustments to generate more power, especially to his pull side, this season.
“For me, I started hitting the ball a lot harder when I started getting more into my back hip, and that’s something we worked on a lot in spring training,” he said. “I started driving the ball a little bit more to the pull side, which is what we wanted. So, I literally just focus on my back hip and my hands, and just be strong through the swing. I’ve gained a lot of strength in the past year or so, and with all these at-bats, it’s seeing what’s possible and what can happen. I do surprise myself from time to time, but at the same time, it just happens.”
Jones’ swing can get a bit long on occasion, not uncommon for someone his size, but Santos said he largely isn’t worried about his prized prospect’s mechanics given his uncanny natural ability.
“His athleticism and his hand-eye coordination is so good, that he makes up for that and he leverages that height really, really well at the plate,” Santos said. “He’s able to hit certain balls that most guys don’t have a shot at hitting, and he’s able to hit those out, so he definitely takes advantage of his height with his swing.”
It’s a swing you’ll likely see at TD Bank Ballpark sooner rather than later, with Jones set to occupy an everyday spot in both the lineup and the outfield – he’s played exclusively in center field thus far in his professional career, which has been split between Dominguez, Everson Pereira and Brandon Lockridge this year in Somerset – as soon as one should open up.
Jones says he’s paid a “little bit” of attention to what’s happening at the upper levels of the system but remains focused on the task at hand in Hudson Valley, where he’s fit in well on what’s become a first-place team.
“It’s so much fun,” he said. “Great staff, great teammates. We enjoy being around each other, and winning baseball is the most fun baseball you can play.”
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Yankees prospect Spencer Jones draws comparison to Josh Hamilton