Jones' focus on fun helped turn him into impact player

September 27th, 2023

DENVER -- Being a game-changer is fun for Rockies rookie , who learned this season from his parents that having fun comes first.

Jones snuffed out a run at the plate with his 18th outfield assist of the season, then he launched his 19th home run in the Rockies’ 4-1 victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday afternoon in the first game of a split doubleheader at Coors Field.

Jones’ carefree use of his strong 6-foot-4 frame and his speed have turned him into a National League Rookie of the Year Award candidate -- with a .926 OPS (in 397 plate appearances) that actually tops that of the front-runner, D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll (.872 going into Tuesday night).

But Jones has his parents -- Regina and Tom Jones, who live in the Philadelphia area -- to thank for making sure his mind didn’t get in the way of his tools.

Jones, 25, arrived in a trade with the Guardians last November, and the Rockies wanted to see what they had. Jones was healthy going into camp, after dealing with injuries the previous two camps with Cleveland. But Jones batted .192 in 52 Cactus League at-bats, which resulted in him getting sent to Triple-A Albuquerque on March 20.

“Once I got sent down, I had a talk with my parents,” Jones said. “This is the first offseason that I was 100 percent healthy in a long time. I worked as hard as every other person in the room.

“To come in and not have the results that you’ve worked so hard for, it’s tough. But my parents talked about having fun and letting it happen.”

His mother even convinced him to have the word "Breathe" stitched to his gloves as a reminder.

Tuesday was another example of Jones being breathtaking.

With two down and two on in the fifth inning, Freddie Freeman lashed a single to left. Respecting Jones’ arm, Dodgers third-base coach Dino Ebel gave Austin Barnes the stop sign as he rounded third. Expecting Barnes to keep going, trail-runner Mookie Betts barreled toward third. Jones’ throw went to the plate.

In the chaos, catcher Austin Wynns dashed toward Betts, who was stranded between second and third. Barnes tried to score, but pitcher Chase Anderson alertly covered the plate and made an easy tag.

The play ended the day for Anderson, who threw five scoreless innings and -- despite having several good-enough starts -- earned his first win of the season. For Jones, who entered pro ball as an infielder (he played outfield some last year) and played the infield corners initially after being called up on May 26, half of his 18 outfield assists have come at the plate.

“I’ve gotten a little lucky this year on the outfield assists, from a guy that’s never played outfield,” Jones said. “We go over [opponents’] outfielders every single day. I’m sure they say [in scouting meetings], 'Left and right, Jones isn’t great.’ Catching fly balls and throwing, I’m not great. There’s a lot of improvement for me in the outfield. I’ve just taken advantage of a couple of opportunities I’ve gotten.”

Jones’ homer, a pull shot to right field off Ryan Pepiot to right field with two down in the seventh, was the type of swing the Rockies’ youthful lineup lacks. Colorado scored three first-inning runs off opener Caleb Ferguson, but managed little the rest of the way. The lack of add-on runs has been a repeated issue. On their 0-6 road trip against the Padres and Cubs, the Rockies lost just once by more than three runs, but they didn’t produce late in games.

As the team grows, it will need a guy to lift the it. Jones -- who also has 15 stolen bases and is just the third rookie in the past 25 years (the Rangers' Adolis García in 2021 and the Royals' Carlos Beltran in 1999) to tally 15 home runs, 15 outfield assists and 15 stolen bases in a season -- could be that type of player.

“He’s been more than a bright spot,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.

Carroll has been in the lineup of the contending D-backs since Opening Day, and he is the first rookie in history with 25 home runs and 50 steals in a season. But Jones used the tough start and getting optioned to Triple-A to make himself stand out in his own right.

“It was really tough for me to go to Albuquerque, but I wanted to have fun,” Jones said. “This is an opportunity that I’m blessed to have received. Some good things have happened, and I’m learning along the way. But I definitely could never have expected this.”

In the nightcap, an 11-2 loss for the Rockies, Ryan Feltner -- in his second start since returning sustaining a fractured skull on May 13 -- gave up five runs in his three innings before being removed with right elbow stiffness. The defeat was the 100th for the Rockies, who had not reached triple figures in losses in any of their previous 30 seasons.