This 22-year-old prospect is born to be a Yankee

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NEW YORK — Before the 2022 MLB Draft, Bill Pintard, head coach of the Santa Barbara Foresters and a seasoned Yankees scout, was requested by the organization to compile a comprehensive report on Spencer Jones, a first-round prospect. The conclusion of his assessment contained a statement that was evidently of great significance to someone associated with the Yankees.

“Spencer Jones was born to be a Yankee.”

While not as confidently assertive as scout Dick Groch’s prediction about Derek Jeter‘s future as a Hall of Fame shortstop, Pintard was still resolute in his belief that his prospect was destined to don the pinstripes for the Yankees.

Spencer Jones was part of Pintard’s Foresters, a team primarily composed of college players, during the summers of 2019 and 2020, coinciding with his initial two seasons at Vanderbilt University. This marked the start of Spencer Jones’ transformation from a promising two-way player hailing from Encinitas, California, to becoming a highly regarded prospect within the Yankees’ farm system. He evolved into a 6-foot-7 power-hitting outfielder, exuding a relaxed personality with a look fit for Madison Avenue, and wielding a left-handed swing perfectly suited for the dimensions of Yankee Stadium.

Spencer Jones is a true Yankee

As the 22-year-old continues to develop into an exceptional player, currently excelling in High-A Hudson Valley, Pintard remains steadfast in his unwavering belief in the promising future that awaits him.

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Pintard expressed his expectations for Spencer Jones, stating that he foresees him becoming a regular member of the Yankees’ lineup for the next decade. Pintard also envisions Spencer Jones making several All-Star appearances and hitting around 30 home runs per season. According to Pintard, Spencer Jones possesses intelligence and striking looks reminiscent of a movie star. He believes that Jones already possesses the demeanor befitting a Yankee player and holds the potential to become a star in the future.

A year has passed since Spencer Jones inked his deal with the Yankees for the complete slot value linked to the 25th overall pick, totaling $2,880,800. Unlike Anthony Volpe, who hails from the local area, or Gerrit Cole, a lifelong Yankees fan, Spencer Jones may not share those same connections, but his trajectory is extraordinary. Nevertheless, the road ahead only grows more challenging, with two minor-league levels awaiting before he can eventually make the leap to the major leagues. This climb has proven difficult for countless top prospects in the past, but various indicators suggest that Spencer Jones has what it takes to transform Pintard’s vision into a reality.

Spencer Jones conveyed that his objective isn’t simply to excel as a minor league player; rather, he aspires to become an outstanding major league player. He expressed his desire to be remembered for his own accomplishments and not be overshadowed by anyone else’s legacy.

After conducting interviews with over a dozen managers, scouts, and coaches, NJ Advance Media gathered valuable insights about Spencer Jones, the Yankees’ third-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He possesses the imposing stature of Aaron Judge, wields the formidable power akin to Giancarlo Stanton, and the Yankees have high expectations that he may eventually attain the same stardom akin to Derek Jeter.

In 2019, Spencer Jones held the distinction of being the youngest player on the Foresters, having previously been a standout high school athlete at La Costa Canyon in Carlsbad, California. Pintard’s initial impression of him compared him to the likes of Shohei Ohtani, describing a slender young player with remarkable power at the plate and the potential to excel as a dominant pitcher. Unfortunately, Spencer Jones faced a setback as he was unable to pitch due to a fractured elbow, which occurred during his senior year of high school while throwing a curveball.

Spencer Jones revealed that his father was concerned about the possibility of him injuring his arm at a young age, so he made the decision to refrain from pitching until his junior year of high school. Upon resuming pitching, he experienced a rapid increase in velocity, but he admits that it happened so quickly that he became more of a thrower rather than a strategic pitcher. Although Spencer Jones could throw with great speed, he struggled with accuracy and couldn’t consistently control the ball’s placement.

Following that summer’s draft, the Angels selected Spencer Jones in the 31st round. However, he chose to honor his commitment to Vanderbilt University while still undergoing rehabilitation for his injury. In hindsight, Jones acknowledged that he never fully recovered to 100 percent fitness, which resulted in irregular playing time. Unfortunately, his first college season was abruptly halted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He flourishes despite setbacks

Upon rejoining the Foresters in 2020, Spencer Jones resumed pitching. However, midway through the summer, he encountered another setback. While throwing a curveball, he experienced a sudden pop, which turned out to be a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. This injury necessitated Tommy John surgery, effectively dashing what he referred to as a “pipe dream” of pursuing a career as both a hitter and a pitcher in the professional leagues.

Spencer Jones revealed that he didn’t have as much fondness for pitching as he did for playing in the field. Consequently, he reached out to his coaches at school and expressed his desire to undergo rehabilitation as a position player, aiming to return to the field and be part of the action on a daily basis.

Vanderbilt’s head coach, Tim Corbin, expressed his contentment upon having Spencer Jones join the Commodores, as he had concerns that a player of Spencer Jones’ caliber might opt for a direct route to professional baseball. Within the past few years, both Volpe and 2023 first-round pick George Lombard Jr. chose the Yankees over Vanderbilt, while Volpe’s high school teammate, Jack Leiter, committed to the school, spending two years in Nashville before being drafted second overall by the Rangers in 2021. As it turned out, Jones’ unfortunate circumstances turned out to be advantageous for Corbin and the Vanderbilt program.

Corbin mentioned that Spencer Jones had experienced significant challenges in his journey. He believed that Jones’ injuries might have contributed to their decision to recruit him, and it was only a matter of time before his exceptional abilities would truly shine. Injuries initially hindered his progress, but once he regained his health, his performance showed a distinctive transformation.

Throughout his recollection, summers have consistently revolved around cross-country journeys to his grandparents’ residence in Brewster, Massachusetts, for Spencer Jones.

Spencer Jones recounted that his grandfather used to tell him that one day he would participate in the Cape Cod League, and he cherished that dream above all else, even more than playing in Omaha for the College World Series or pursuing a professional baseball career. As a child, he aspired to be a part of the Cape Cod League because his grandfather had made it sound incredibly appealing and enticing.

In 2021, following Vanderbilt’s defeat against Mississippi State in the final game of the College World Series, Spencer Jones opted to join the Brewster Whitecaps. This decision proved to be highly beneficial for him. Not only did it offer an opportunity to bond with family and take a break from the pressures of college baseball, but it also allowed him to gain valuable experience by consistently facing top-notch opponents. Additionally, this experience allowed him to distance himself from his past injuries while enjoying a summer filled with enjoyable activities like pool parties, barbecues, campfires, and of course, baseball.

Reflecting on that summer, Spencer Jones mentioned that it had taught him the importance of relaxing and savoring the present moment. In the past, he had placed an immense amount of pressure on himself without fully recognizing the enjoyment that could be found in the game. However, that particular experience helped him understand that what he was doing was genuinely enjoyable and allowed him to approach the sport with a more relaxed mindset.

His big bat that speaks for Spencer Jones

Spencer Jones had a remarkable performance while playing for the Whitecaps, making a significant impact with a batting average of .309 (29-for-94). Across 29 games, he contributed significantly with 16 runs, 20 RBI, six stolen bases, and three home runs, ultimately leading Brewster to secure the Cape League title. As a result of his outstanding display, he received All-League honors in recognition of his achievements.

According to Brewster manager Jamie Shevchik, he wasn’t fully convinced about Spencer Jones’ abilities until he had the opportunity to witness his exceptional outfield skills. Shevchik was impressed by how effortlessly Spencer Jones could cover ground and reach balls, essentially reducing the outfield’s size with his exceptional fielding. As a result, Shevchik decided to utilize Jones as the leadoff hitter, a role typically associated with smaller, faster players. Despite his 6-foot-6 stature, Jones displayed remarkable speed and base-stealing abilities, making an immediate and influential impact on the team.

The speaker expressed that Spencer Jones possesses one of the finest overall personalities they have ever encountered. They also described him as a very humble individual, making it difficult to discern whether he played at a prestigious university like Vanderbilt or a smaller institution like Keystone College, a Division III team.

During that particular summer, when Yankees area scout Matt Hyde, who happened to be one of Shevchik’s close friends, visited Brewster to address the team, they engaged in a conversation centered around Spencer Jones.

Hyde shared that he has known Jamie for an extended period and holds great confidence in his judgment of both individuals and players. According to Hyde, Shevchik strongly endorsed Spencer Jones as a player fitting the mold of a Yankee right from the beginning. Shevchik firmly believed that there was a considerable amount of untapped potential within Spencer Jones, attributing it not only to his physical tools and abilities but also to his exceptional character, makeup, resolve, and determination.

Following the team’s selection of Spencer Jones in the draft last July, Hyde reached out to Shevchik to express his gratitude for the part he played in the selection process.

Hyde was particularly impressed by Spencer Jones’ determination to remain on the Cape until the end of the summer, which stood out the most after Shevchik’s recommendation. Instead of heading home for a break or returning to college baseball earlier, Spencer Jones had a strong desire to stay and compete for a championship with the team.

Hyde mentioned that there is a significant value in players who have a history of winning. According to him, players like Anthony Volpe and Aaron Judge possess this characteristic, and he believes that Spencer Spencer Jones also falls into this category of winners. To Hyde, this trait is an essential aspect ingrained in a player’s DNA that cannot be measured by any statistic, and it plays a pivotal role in their becoming valuable assets within successful organizations.

Upon Spencer Jones’ return to Vanderbilt for his third season, he rediscovered the joy and enthusiasm of heading to the ballpark every day. Additionally, he was in good health as he entered the spring season, which marked the first time since high school that he had the opportunity to begin a season with no health-related concerns.

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He displayed a remarkable level of performance, practically unstoppable with an impressive .370/.460/.643 slash line, accompanied by 12 home runs, 60 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases across 61 games. Spencer Jones’ exceptional play earned him a place on the All-SEC second team, notably leading the conference with 21 doubles. Although he had a 25 percent strikeout rate during his college years, it did not overshadow his impressive 1.103 OPS as a junior, further affirming his undeniable first-round talent.

Corbin mentioned that Spencer Jones had reached a point of comfort regarding his situation, approach, and performance. That particular summer served as a pivotal turning point for him in multiple aspects. Being able to spend quality time with his family, playing baseball, and having good health all came together in a confluence, contributing to his overall sense of ease and contentment.

On the upswing

Amidst Spencer Jones’ rising popularity and increased interest from various teams during that spring, Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ scouting director, attended a weekend series between Vanderbilt and Auburn Tigers. While observing Jones and Auburn slugger Sonny DiChiara, Oppenheimer spent time with Corbin’s wife, Maggie, engaging her in a conversation and asking numerous questions about Jones.

According to Corbin, after returning home from the series, Maggie shared the details of her conversations with Damon. It was at that moment when Corbin realized that Spencer Jones was undoubtedly fit for the Yankees, leading him to conclude, “Of course. He’s a Yankee.”

When Spencer Jones’ name initially appeared on Oppenheimer’s desk, they were considering him as a pitcher. Oppenheimer revealed that Scott Lovekamp, who worked as the pitching analyst and cross-checker for the Yankees, took the initiative to visit Spencer Jones before his senior year of high school and observed him while he was pitching.

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However, when Spencer Jones suffered an injury and later decided to attend Vanderbilt, Oppenheimer set aside the file related to him. It was only when Spencer Jones emerged as a standout player in the Cape Cod League that Oppenheimer retrieved the file once more, rekindling interest in him.

Oppenheimer stated that Spencer Jones displayed impressive hitting power, exhibited excellent running skills, and showcased athleticism while playing center field. It was during this time that the Yankees realized he had the potential to be a valuable pick for them, potentially within the top rounds of the draft.

When the opportunity arose late in the first round, the Yankees swiftly selected Spencer Jones, confident in his exceptional physical abilities, mental resilience to thrive in New York, and his potential to excel at Yankee Stadium.

Oppenheimer noted that not many players check all the boxes as Spencer Jones does. He mentioned that when discussing players like Jones, Volpe, Judge, and even Austin Wells, the Yankees’ top catching prospect recently promoted to Triple-A, these individuals possess a multitude of qualities that instill confidence in the organization that they truly embody what it means to be a Yankee.

Following his successful stint at Low-A Tampa, where he recorded a .325 batting average with three home runs and an impressive .905 OPS in 25 games last year, Spencer Jones has now found his rhythm at High-A Hudson Valley. He has maintained a solid performance, hitting .275 (88-for-320) with the Renegades in 78 games, tallying 12 home runs, 49 runs, and 47 RBI.

According to Hudson Valley manager Sergio Santos, Spencer Jones embodies a coach’s dream. He expressed admiration for Jones’ remarkable athleticism, which is truly awe-inspiring. Additionally, Santos praised Jones’ strong work ethic, his eagerness to improve, and his constant curiosity to learn. Finding a combination of such exceptional talent and dedicated hard work is a rarity. Santos believes that with this unique recipe, Spencer Jones has the potential to become a superstar in the making.

Spencer Jones is undoubtedly a player that garners support and admiration. The ushers at Heritage Financial Park in Wappingers Falls, New York, attest to his endearing nature, noting that he frequently remains on the field even after the game ends to sign autographs for fans, irrespective of his own performance. His competitiveness is evident through his willingness to push for extra bases, execute diving catches, and deliver powerful home runs that leave a lasting impact.

One significant concern lies in his strikeout rate, which stands at 30 percent with 107 strikeouts in 357 plate appearances this season. Due to his large frame, there is a broader area for him to cover with his swing. Nonetheless, when he times his swings correctly and hits the ball in the air, he possesses the ability to create a substantial impact. However, as he progresses and faces tougher pitching, adjustments will be crucial for his development. The organization is closely observing his performance, and a potential promotion to Double-A Somerset appears likely, serving as a critical test for his future prospects.

“The guy is a beast. He has everything you want in a baseball player,” Hudson Valley hitting coach Kevin Martir said. “He’s one of those top-tier athletes on a baseball field. You usually get those guys on the football field.”

In the context of the Yankees, Spencer Jones cannot be assured of a spot in the Bronx due to various factors, one of which is the possibility of trades. Very few prospects are considered untouchable, and Jones’ position on that spectrum remains uncertain. However, there are favorable factors in his favor, such as the availability of several other talented young players that the Yankees could potentially make available for trades, including a pair of outfielders.

Following his recent promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Everson Pereira is excelling on the field, showcasing impressive performances. On the other hand, Jasson Domínguez is a highly anticipated prospect generating significant hype. The immediate paths of both players could be influenced by the Yankees’ decision regarding Harrison Bader, a beloved hometown hero, who has seamlessly integrated into the team since he arrived from the Cardinals. However, the organization might be hesitant to offer a long-term commitment due to Bader’s injury history.

Currently, Spencer Jones is honing his skills and gaining experience in the minor leagues. According to a scout who closely observed him, Jones is expected to develop into a dependable everyday outfielder capable of playing all three positions. As a hitter, he is described as a blend of Stanton and Judge, possessing impressive power to all parts of the field. While Spencer Jones has some areas to refine in his swing, Jones has ample time to make those adjustments over the next few years. The Yankees are likely to exhibit patience and allow him to grow if he lives up to the potential his college coach envisions.

Hudson Valley hitting coach Kevin Martir expressed his admiration for Spencer Jones, describing him as a remarkable baseball player with all the desirable attributes. According to Martir, he possesses the qualities of a top-tier athlete commonly seen on a football field, making him an exceptional presence on the baseball field.

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