Chasing Judge? Yankees prospect aims for contact and big flies with new-look swing
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In early December, Spencer Jones, the New York Yankees‘ highly anticipated prospect, found himself bombarded with messages from friends speculating eagerly about potential trade scenarios. Hailing from San Diego and attending high school near Petco Park, Jones’s friends, mostly San Diego Padres fans, were buzzing with excitement over trade talks linking the Yankees to superstar outfielder Juan Soto. While the prospect of playing for his hometown team thrilled his friends, Jones remained grounded, deflecting the trade speculation.
Yankees’ rising star
Despite being the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Jones stayed with the team after completing his first full season in the organization. In 2023, he played 117 games across High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset, showcasing his skills with a 113 wRC+, 16 home runs, and 43 stolen bases.
During the offseason, Jones dedicated a significant portion of his time to training in Nashville, Tenn., and pursuing a degree in communication studies at Vanderbilt. Despite his MLB aspirations, completing his college education remains a priority, aligning with a family tradition of higher education.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine,” Jones emphasized for the Athletic. “My brothers, parents, and grandparents are all college-educated. That’s something my mom wants me to get done. I’m not sure how quickly I’ll be able to finish it, but it’s something that I want to continue chipping away at.”
A new star in the making?
Known for his exceptional speed, Jones not only excels on the field but also strives for improvement off it. Focused on refining his swing to add more loft, the Yankees aim to maximize Jones’s raw power. Despite a ground-ball rate of 49.1 percent in the past season, Jones has been diligently working on his post-stride process to enhance his plate performance.
“It feels like a more athletic move now,” Jones explained. “I’m able to stay grounded a lot better, and my eyes are in a better position for release and seeing spin.”
Increasing the launch angle in Jones’s swing is a strategic move by the Yankees, seeking to harness his power more effectively. Recognizing the challenge of balancing loft with reduced swing-and-miss, Jones has prioritized refining his post-stride process to optimize his hitting capabilities.
Jones’s commitment to hitting the ball in the air aligns with his impressive power metrics. At the 2022 MLB Draft combine, he recorded the highest exit velocity at 112.2 mph, emphasizing the potential for increased home run production with an adjusted swing. However, the objective isn’t merely to chase home runs but to develop a consistent batting path that combines power and contact.
Comparisons between Jones and Yankees’ slugger Aaron Judge are inevitable due to their similar statures. While their playing styles differ, Jones’s swing adjustment journey mirrors Judge’s early career challenges. Jones’s focus on improving his swing draws parallels to Judge’s efforts in addressing launch-angle issues, culminating in his remarkable rookie season in 2017.
One area where Jones stands out is his exceptional speed, positioning him as a long-term center fielder with Gold Glove potential. Studying film of Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, Jones aspires to emulate Kiermaier’s defensive prowess and positioning on the field.
Despite skepticism surrounding the Yankees’ plan to have Judge play center field, Jones emerges as a unique outlier with exceptional athleticism. Loden Sports, in its analysis of Jones’s athleticism, identified him as an extraordinary talent, ranking among the top 0.22 percent in power and speed. With impressive home-to-third times and a desire to unlock more speed and power, Jones remains focused on continuous improvement.
While Jones is poised to start the season in Double-A, the crowded outfield scenario for the Yankees may delay his MLB debut. With Jasson Domínguez, the team’s No. 2 prospect, also vying for a center field role, the Yankees face decisions regarding their future outfield alignment, especially if Juan Soto joins the team on a long-term deal. Despite the uncertainties, Jones remains committed to his journey of self-improvement, both on and off the field.
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