Jones wraps sensational rookie season, looks ahead to 2024

October 2nd, 2023

DENVER -- : First rookie in MLB history with 20 HR, 20 SB and 19 OF assists.

That would look good engraved on a Rolex. 

Jones parked a solo homer in the fourth inning, threw out a runner at second in the eighth, and achieved the 20/20-making steal in the ninth of the 3-2, 11-inning victory over the Twins to conclude the 2023 season.

Of course, the season is engraved with a 59-103 record, the worst in club history. More on the reasons for that later. 

The record doesn’t belong on the watch that veteran presented to his mentee, when Jones reached 60 (of his 62) RBIs. Bryant told Jones he would present the gift if he reached 20 homers and steals, or 60 RBIs.

“I proved to myself that I could do more than I thought I could,” said Jones, who produced a .297 batting average and .931 OPS -- and at least put himself in the National League Rookie of the Year conversation, even though the D-backs’ record-setting Corbin Carroll is the favorite.

“I’ve never stolen bases in my career,” Jones said. “I’ve never thrown people out in my career. I’ve had moments where I came up in the ninth and put a ball in play. I’ve gained a lot of confidence this year.”

Jones highlighted a weird day during which the Rockies struck out 17 times to solidify the worst offensive season in club history. The win came when automatic runner stole third and continued home on a wild pitch from Jordan Luplow, who was on the mound because the American League Central champion Twins wanted to save real pitchers for Tuesday’s opener of the AL Wild Card Series against the Blue Jays.

In another odd twist, Bryant was batting when Jones secured his 20th steal, which he can now have etched on a striking piece of wristwear.

Jones had to steal it twice, though. 

He had an excellent jump but was robbed by Bryant’s foul ball. Moments later, catcher Ryan Jeffers’ throw arrived at second base first, but Jones pulled a nice swim move to beat the tag of Christian Vázquez.

“We were talking earlier in the game and I was like, if he [Jorge Alcala in the ninth] throws it down the middle, I’m going to swing,” Bryant said.

Jones quipped, “Actually, he told me before the game that he was swinging, no matter what.”

The Rockies finished with a .248 team batting average, decimal points behind the 2021 club for lowest in club history and the lowest on-base percentage at .310, while striking out a team-record 1,543 times. They also had their second-highest starting pitching ERA at 5.91, and had a Major League-worst 5.41 relief ERA. Those are only some of the marks the Rockies simply can’t accept in their future.

But the Rockies go into the offseason with the sight of Doyle chest-down on the plate and smiling widely at Jones. The pain of this year is worth it only if it leads to a better future.

“It was a crazy season, so it’s kind of fitting,” Doyle said.

Jones had his accomplishments, Doyle is the statistical favorite for the Gold Glove Award, and shortstop Ezequiel Tovar became the fifth rookie 22 or younger to reach at least 145 hits, 35 doubles, 15 home runs and 10 steals in a season. Second-year man , injured most of the year, homered Sunday -- his fourth in the final five games. Second-year man Elehuris Montero hit .306 from Aug. 15 to the end of the year.

And if every little bit helps, just maybe a gift from a veteran to an exciting rookie could be part of the process -- while some of it simply has to be Bryant staying on the field. He has played 142 games since joining the Rockies (80 in 2023) and has a .259/.315/.404 slash line.

Bryant said when he was young, his grandparents gave him $20 for every home run and $100 for straight A’s on his report card. As he grew as a player, he would pick a gift for himself.

This year, he noticed Jones reminded him of himself, and passed on his grandfather’s motivational tool.

“Hopefully, when we’re successful down the line and he sees a rookie that reminds him of himself, he’ll do the same thing,” Bryant said. “I’m super proud of him.”

Maybe Jones will pay it forward years down the road. But the focus now is 2024.

“There’s no secret that what happened this year was not what we wanted,” Jones said. “I don’t think one person is going to change it. But the combined effort from a lot of different guys stepping up is really cool and important.”