WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The compliments have poured out of nearly every corner of the Astros' clubhouse this spring for Taylor Jones, the 6-foot-7 infielder who only recently became a power threat and has shown enough natural ability at first base to conclude that he could be the heir apparent at the position in Houston.
Jones is ranked 24th among Astros prospects by MLB Pipeline, but that’s mainly because he’s 26 years old and was drafted after playing four seasons at Gonzaga -- the first two as a pitcher. The Astros took him in the 19th round in the 2016 Draft and paid him a $2,500 bonus, and he is now knocking at the door of the big leagues.
The Astros added Jones to their 40-man roster this offseason after he hit .291 with 28 doubles, 22 homers, 84 RBIs and an .889 OPS in 125 games at Triple-A Round Rock.
“Being on the 40-man roster, you know that you’re getting close and you know they’ve got a plan for you and all that, so it’s reassuring coming into camp,” Jones said. “Once we got here and got rolling here, it’s a good environment with Dusty [Baker] being around. He provides a good players’ environment where you feel comfortable. The staff they’ve got is great, and obviously the guys around here are awesome. It’s just been a good spring so far.”
Jones, who has played some third base this spring, didn’t play first base full-time at Gonzaga until his senior year. He provides a big target but has a natural ability to pick balls out of the dirt, and he moves pretty well. He didn’t develop his power until he hit 18 homers between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno in '18 and 22 more last year at Round Rock.
“I’m a big fan of Jones,” outfielder George Springer said. “I’ve seen him take a lot of BP. His swings in the game and the way he plays the field [are impressive]. Big dude. I think what gets lost about him is pretty much how athletic he is for being 6-7 or whatever he is. For being that big, to be able to move the way he does, I think it’s impressive.”
Jones’ athleticism shouldn’t be a surprise considering he was a forward on a state basketball championship team at Kentwood High in Kent, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. (It may not surprise you that he grew up idolizing Hall of Famer and long-time Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey Jr., either.) Jones moved to Las Vegas with his wife after the '18 season so he could work out in the winter outside. Jones was working out in the gym last winter when the Astros called him and told him he was being added to the 40-man roster.
“There’s a lot of pro guys who live out there during the offseason, and it’s a good baseball community in general,” Jones said. “I’m originally from Seattle. It’s kind of tough to be up there during the offseason just because of the weather. Not a whole lot of guys are still up in that area, at least in my area in Kent. Vegas is a good spot.”
Jones will begin the season as the starting first baseman at Round Rock once again. The Astros have a loaded infield, and veteran Yuli Gurriel will be a free agent following the '20 season. There could be a real opportunity for Jones in Houston next year, if not earlier.
“I feel like last year in Triple-A, I did some good things,” Jones said. “I think I’m at a point now that I’m ready for the next step. Obviously, the organization is the one who decides all the moves and all that. But I feel good, I feel like what we’ve been working on is starting to pay off, and I think I know what I need to focus on to get to the next level. Obviously, you’re always kind of pushing yourself to get to the next level and next set of challenges, and I think I’m ready for that.”