Top prospect Jones cranks 470-foot HR in first spring AB

February 24th, 2024

LAKELAND, Fla. -- sure knows how to make a first impression.

Ranked as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Jones blasted a Statcast-projected 470-foot home run in his Grapefruit League debut Saturday at Publix Field, a fifth-inning drive that cleared the right-field bullpens and set off a mad souvenir scramble on an overlooking concourse.

“Jaw-dropping,” said Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe after New York's 22-10 win over Detroit. “The first thing is, obviously the physicality stands out. But just today, the at-bats he puts together and how pure of a hitter he looks like he is, it’s super impressive.”

Jones, 22, came off the bench to slug the pinch-hit homer off Tigers right-hander Mason Englert, just two days after managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said he would be “hesitant” to include Jones in any trade packages.

“It was cool; it was fun to be on the field again, my first game since last season,” Jones said. “The wind helped it a little bit for sure, but it felt good. I caught it out in front.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that he believed the 470-foot calculation was accurate.

“A long, lofty homer to right-center,” Boone said. “I don’t even necessarily think he clipped it all.”

Wind-aided or not, the homer provided a glimpse of the big-time power potential that scouts and other observers see ahead for Jones. The Yankees’ first-round selection (25th overall) in the 2022 MLB Draft out of Vanderbilt University, Jones has been savoring his experience in big league camp so far.

“It’s so cool,” Jones said. “You get to wake up and hang out with all these guys during the day. It’s a lot of fun to go to work and do these things. So it’s just cool to be a part of it for right now, and learn as much as possible. I’m just trying to be a sponge.”

The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Jones has been compared to a left-handed Aaron Judge. He played 117 games last season for High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset, where he slashed .267/.336/.444 with 16 homers, 66 RBIs and 43 stolen bases.

Jones spent much of his offseason refining his swing with a personal hitting coach, aiming to shorten his stroke and cut down on strikeouts after fanning 155 times in 480 at-bats last season. So far, it looks like the work is paying off.

“I played with him in high school, when he was a pitcher,” said Volpe, who mentioned Team USA and the Area Code Games among the events where he and Jones overlapped. “To see how far he’s come from there, it’s just really impressive.”

While Jones’ light-tower muscle opened eyes Saturday, Boone was equally impressed by a 12-pitch at-bat facing Devin Sweet in the eighth inning. Jones fouled off six full-count pitches from the right-hander before slicing a ground ball single to left field for an RBI.

“He was fighting off and finally got one he could really handle,” Boone said of Jones, who finished the afternoon 3-for-3 with four RBIs and a hit-by-pitch. “He hit the ball with authority the other way today, which was good to see.”

Said Jones: “That was a cool one. I was just really locked in.”

Though Jones’ work in the batter’s box stole the headlines Saturday, Boone said he has also been impressed by Jones’ skills on the basepaths and in the outfield.

“The first thing that stands out is how fast he is,” Boone said. “Obviously, [Jones is] a big man, but he can fly. He’s a guy that I could legitimately see as a really good defender in center field, the way he goes and gets the ball and moves.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman recently said that he expects Jones to begin the season at Double-A, where he played just 17 games last season.

Cashman has rebuffed numerous trade proposals that included Jones, including from the Brewers for Corbin Burnes and from the White Sox for Dylan Cease. The Padres also asked for Jones in their initial discussions regarding Juan Soto.

“He was the No. 1 pick for a reason for us,” Cashman said. “Very talented, really high ceiling. So [we are] looking forward to getting him to big league camp and getting his taste here, and then deploying him to Double-A and getting the season going again. But he’s a very talented guy. He gets asked about a lot, so I know our evaluations of him are shared similarly in the industry because of how his name comes up.”