Rays Minors report: Greg Jones showing pop

June 15th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The Rays’ Triple-A Durham, High-A Bowling Green and Low-A Charleston affiliates all began the week in first place. Overall, the Rays’ 85-55 organizational record is second best in the Minors behind only the Yankees. Factor in the Rays’ best-in-the-Majors record, and no organization has won more games this season.

While covering the big league club every day, MLB.com will also be keeping tabs on the Rays’ top performers, trends and storylines down on the farm throughout the summer in this weekly Minor League notebook. Last week, we checked in on No. 2 prospect Vidal Bruján at Triple-A Durham.

hadn’t played in a meaningful, competitive game since Sept. 1, 2019, when he joined High-A Bowling Green’s lineup on May 12. The Rays’ No. 7 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, missed out on valuable playing time with no Minor League season last year, then spent six weeks recovering from a ruptured quad muscle sustained late in Spring Training.

Jones hardly showed any rust, walking in his first plate appearance of the season, then launching a three-run homer in his second. Three days later, he hit a walk-off grand slam.

“Baseball is a game I’ve played my whole life, so it’s just like riding a bike,” Jones said in a phone interview. “You never really forget how to do it.”

Jones, the Rays’ first-round pick in the 2019 Draft, is doing it all so far this season and turning a lot of heads in the process. The switch-hitting shortstop is getting on base, posting a .382 OBP in 21 games. He’s using his speed, stealing 11 bases. And now, all of a sudden, he’s hitting for power, too.

Jones said he’s never hit more homers in a season than the five he slugged as a sophomore at UNC Wilmington. Well, he’s already got seven for Bowling Green. The 23-year-old attributed the power surge to his physical development last year, when he added 10 to 15 pounds of “good muscle” by focusing on strength training and nutrition.

“Honestly, maybe a little time off away from the game developed my body a little bit,” he said. “So far, it’s the most home runs I’ve ever hit in my life. Obviously, it’s done something good for me.”

Brady North, Bowling Green’s hitting coach, said Jones has slightly tweaked his posture at the plate, putting himself in a better position to hit. He “lives around the barrel,” as North put it, consistently making hard contact even on his mishits. He’s also displayed encouraging pitch selection, understanding which offerings he can do damage on when using his newfound strength.

“More than anything, it’s really his intent. I think he’s taking some chances earlier in counts,” North said. “We’ve kind of gone to this mantra of ‘the freedom to take a chance,’ the freedom to risk for himself. You’ll see him earlier in the counts swinging, not letting the freebies go by.”

Some evaluators wonder if Jones is better suited to play center field in the long haul, if only because he has the athleticism to do so and the Rays are so loaded with middle-infield prospects. But he has only worked at shortstop this season despite making eight errors for an .887 fielding percentage. There’s no denying Jones’ range and dynamic abilities, as he’s capable of making highlight-reel plays in the field, but the next step is nailing down the routine plays every night.

“Definitely have some uncharacteristic errors so far, but I can’t let those keep bothering me throughout the season,” Jones said. “I let go of them, don’t even think about them and keep trying to play the game, make all the plays that I can.”


Triple-A Durham (24-11, first place in the Triple-A East -- Southeast Division)

• Center fielder Josh Lowe has been one of the most productive hitters in the Rays’ system this season. Tampa Bay’s No. 10 prospect is hitting .307/.360/.649 with nine homers, 10 doubles and six steals in 30 games. That kind of production will only boost the profile of a quality defensive outfielder who stole 30 bases in 2019.

The 2016 first-round pick still shows a tendency to swing and miss, striking out in 36 of his 125 plate appearances, but the Rays believe the 23-year-old has found a balanced approach that allows him to make more contact without losing the consistent power he’s shown.

• No, Wander Franco hasn’t been called up yet. Yes, he’s still hitting. The top prospect has hit safely in 16 of his past 17 games, including all 11 games this month. Over his past 17 games before Monday’s off-day, he hit .348/.400/.638 with four homers and 21 RBIs.

• After beginning the season as a hitter in Triple-A, two-way player Brendan McKay is back on the mound facing hitters in live batting practice at the Rays’ extended spring training site in Port Charlotte, Fla. The next step there for the Rays’ No. 3 prospect will be simulated/intrasquad games.

Double-A Montgomery (16-19, third place in the Double-A South -- South Division)

• Right-hander Shane Baz received two rewards following a perfect five-inning start last Wednesday: the Double-A South Pitcher of the Week Award and a promotion. Baz, MLB Pipeline’s No. 75 overall prospect, will make his Triple-A Durham debut on Wednesday.

The 21-year-old tore up Double-A, posting a 2.48 ERA with 49 strikeouts and only two walks in 32 2/3 innings over seven outings. Baz has always had upper-level stuff, and now his command has caught up. He’ll carry a typical starter’s workload in Triple-A, even if he occasionally pitches after an opener to prepare for that possibility moving forward.

• Montgomery swept the Double-A South awards, as outfielder Garrett Whitley was named the league’s Player of the Week. The Rays’ first-round pick in 2015 is enjoying arguably his best stretch as a pro, batting .302/.404/.604 with six homers in 28 games -- as well as hitting for the cycle last Tuesday. The key for Whitley seems to just be good health, which has allowed him to settle into a routine and put all his first-round abilities on display.

• Second baseman Xavier Edwards, the Rays' No. 4 prospect, was reinstated from the 7-day IL (oblique) on June 6 and hit the ground running, going 6-for-20 with one double, three walks and only one strikeout.

High-A Bowling Green (24-12, first place in the High-A East -- South Division)

• Tied with Baz atop the organizational strikeout leaderboard? Right-hander Peyton Battenfield, one of two players acquired from the Astros in January 2020 for Austin Pruitt. A ninth-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2019, Battenfield only pitched in front of the Rays’ coaching staff briefly last year before Spring Training was shut down.

The 23-year-old came back throwing harder than in past years, locating a fastball with good movement and getting his cutter in the zone for strikes. It’s all leading to good results, too, as he put together a 1.45 ERA and 0.74 WHIP with 49 strikeouts and five walks in 31 innings over seven games for the Hot Rods. He was promoted to Double-A on Tuesday.

• Organizational home run leader Ruben Cardenas merits another mention, not just because he was also promoted to Montgomery. The 23-year-old outfielder continued to crush the ball last week, heading up to Double-A on a 7-for-13 tear with three homers -- he now has 10 on the year -- and seven RBIs in his last three games. North called Cardenas “one of the smartest hitters I’ve been fortunate enough to be around,” raving about his ability to identify issues and quickly correct them.

Low-A Charleston (21-13, first place in the Low-A East -- South Division)

• Infielder Curtis Mead joined the Rays’ Top 30 Prospects list after Shane McClanahan graduated, and for good reason. The 20-year-old is hitting .316/.375/.465 with nine doubles and two homers, better translating his raw power into in-game exit velocity. He’s hit everywhere he’s played, and while he’s now more of a corner infielder than an up-the-middle option, the Rays believe he can be a quality defender at third base.

• Right-hander Cole Wilcox, the club’s No. 8 prospect, has a 1.69 ERA that ranks third in Low-A this season, and his 0.78 WHIP is tied for third as well. He’s thrown five innings in each of his past four starts while not allowing more than three runs in all seven outings this season. One sign of development the Rays have noted: He’s getting outs even on nights he doesn’t have his best stuff, showing improved pitchability at the outset of his professional career.

• The Rays knew right-hander Taj Bradley had considerable upside when they took him in the fifth round of the 2018 Draft, and he’s showing it in his first full-season experience. Bradley, 20, has a 3.28 ERA with 38 strikeouts and only nine walks while getting a bunch of outs on the ground in 24 2/3 innings over six outings.