The 2021 MLB Amateur Draft, and subsequent signing period, was an absolute whirlwind for General Manager Ben Cherington and Co., the Pittsburgh Pirates and in turn the fans of this historic franchise. After drafting five players that were listed among the top 100 of the class (Henry, Davis, Anthony Solometo, Lonnie White, Jr., Bubba Chandler and Braylon Bishop), and another that made his way near the top 200 (Owen Kellington), the Pirates were able to sign all but two of their selections (12th Round-LHP Chazz Martinez from Orange Coast College and 16th Round-SS and Wake Forest Commit Daniel Corona, Jr. from The Baylor Schools).
This feat was immediately met with fanfare and accolades by most experts and amateurs from across the entire baseball community. While, I believe much of this praise was well deserved, my mind began automatically began to drift back a little over a year into the past, to Cherington’s first draft in his time with Pittsburgh, and what he was able to accomplish in those first three rounds.
Now, it’s possible that much of what he did during that time was somewhat overlooked because of the fact that we were in the beginning stages of a global pandemic; severely limiting the number of innings that the draftees could have participated in leading up to the draft and punctuating the fact that they could not be officially placed anywhere other than to open spots at the alternate site prior to the Fall Instructional League.
Obviously it’s not like there wasn’t any draft coverage, however, it has to be acknowledged that it was not nearly as in-depth as it was this year; even though the majority of the players drafted by the Pirates ended up being assigned to Pirate City, and the newly dubbed Florida Complex League without the presence of the Bristol Pirates of the Advanced Rookie Level Appalachian League and the West Virginia Black Bears of the Short Season A New York-Penn League.
During the first three rounds Cherington selected and signed four of the top 70 draft prospects according to MLB Pipeline, including 55th ranked two-way high school phenom Jared Jones from La Mirada High School in California who commanded a over slot $2.2 million signing bonus.
In his high school career the young right hander posted a career .89 ERA and struck out 255 batters in 181 innings pitched thanks to his 60 grade fastball, which consistently reaches around 97 mph, his 55 grade slider that drops of the map between 80-82 mph and an solid 85-88 mph change up. On the offensive side he batted .394 with 7 home runs and a 1.040 OPS.
Straightaway, it should be noted that Jones may not have been a full on victim of circumstance per se, as that could be seen as a tad bit over dramatic or over stated, but possibly more of a causality due to the lack of attention. People knew who he was. He was listed on the Pittsburgh Pirates Top 30 Prospects (#25 on Fangraphs and #16 on MLB Pipeline) immediately after being drafted. Nevertheless, this kid has been able to move beyond his status of a potentially overlooked prospect very quickly; garnering recognition from local and national media alike over the past few weeks.
At the start of the season, after being assigned to the Low A Bradenton Marauders to begin his professional career at the age of 19, Jones made his first two appearances out of the bullpen, and was pretty darn impressive. In his first 4 innings he struck out 9, didn’t allow a single earned run and walked only one batter; earning himself a spot in the starting rotation for almost every single outing since then.
As a starter, Jones has posted a 3.26 ERA and a 1.293 WHIP while striking out 57 in 38.2 innings; including 7 in his last appearance just yesterday.
However, in this year of development, you would have to imagine that command/control (35 Future Value on Fangraphs and 40 on MLB Pipeline) would have to be a focus for him and Pitching Coach Fernando Nieve as it has always been listed as his biggest concern.
So, how has he done thus far, and what does this mean for his immediate future? Well, if you look at his overall base on ball rate of 3.72 I would have to say that things have gone possibly better than expected for the young man, who just turned 20 on August 6th; although it has not been without growing pains associated with bringing your pitches back into the zone. Over his last 15 innings of work, Jones has surrendered 3 homers in his last 20 innings of work.
Concerning his immediate future, the level of competition at Bradenton for promotion is extremely crowded at the moment with his fellow 2020 MLB Draftees Logan Hofmann and Nick Garcia, along with Adrian Florencio and Luis Ortiz doing well for themselves; plus you have to take into account the staff at Greensboro and Altoona, too, and whether or not they will be promoted to make more room.
Which would make me think, that considering all of these factors and taking Jones’ age into account, a year of seasoning at the Low A level could be expected. However, I wouldn’t rule anything out when it comes to potential pitcher injuries in the levels above him, or a Ben Cherington fast track, even though using the ETAs of 2024 or 2025 as a guideline-not gospel as some do-would put him at one level a year, with a possible MLB call up at some point during his 22 year old season.