Updated: May 2, 2019
THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of quirky and goofy guy and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.
Connor Jones - Right-Handed RELIEF Pitcher, now
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft
STATS AS OF 5-1-2019
This is a story that a better narrator would really thrive while telling.
Jones is a big kid with at least one big pitch. He's one step away from the majors, too, and he made it there in two and a half seasons. This is usually the kind of story tagline that would sell the readership with the dust jacket, alone.
I, however, am a wretch of a human being. So, instead, what you are going to get is a narrator/evaluator that is more than likely half-drunk and telling the story wrong.
This evaluation is basically the "Norm MacDonald's autobiography" of player evaluations: "Based On A True Story."
Truth be told, I've just never been that big of a fan of the big-bodied-right-hander out of the University of Virginia. I certainly haven't given him the credit that he deserves. My issue all along has been that his pitches are just too good to be hit the way that they are/were being hit. There would be singular starts in which he'd put it together and be groovin', but he never seemed to carry that momentum from start to start. As good as his sinker was at times, or as dynamic as his breaking ball would show, nothing ever really seemed to work at the same time. I mean, just look at this offspeed pitch:
On top of this, he has an issue repeating his mechanics. It's relatively easy for a hitter to pick up the ball out of his hand. My guess is, he's tipping his pitches because of the little hiccups in repeatability, too. There's the whole "thing" about pitcher's mechanics and how the University of Virginia forces kids to conform to pitching mechanics and style, but that's a story for a better writer. The relevant gist is, U-o-V pitchers have a tendency to fizzle out in the minors big-time because of what they are taught at the University. This is probably why his stuff is hit the way that it's hit.
I've left Jones off of nearly every list that I've put together since he's entered the organization for the reasons that I just listed. He just didn't have "it" to me, whatever that might actually mean. Even as recently as the Arizona Fall League this past October/November, he just seemed "fine" at best.
Actually, now that I type it, "Fine: At Best" should really be the name of the Connor Jones story up to this point in his career.
So, you might be asking yourself "why put him on the list now, shit-for-brains?"
The answer is "now, for the first time, I see his clear and best path to the majors."
More than likely, Jones will start the year pitching in Memphis' rotation. Good. That's perfect for him and that's where he needs to be as he continues to refine both his mechanics and repertoire. Now, there is always the chance that he'll start the season pitching out of the Memphis bullpen. Last year, he had a quick little four game taste of AAA in July that didn't go so well. Then, when he was returned to AA at the end of August, he pitched exclusively out of the pen. In the Arizona Fall League, he also pitched exclusively out of the bullpen, but that isn't really that telling. That's how it works out there, more often than not. I'll get into more detail in a bit, but I think the bullpen is best for Mr. Jones in the long-run. However, I'd still like for him to get SP innings until he's needed out of the major league bullpen.
It's going to be his big sinker that's been clocked at 98 MPH this offseason that is going to take him to the promised land. The .gif below happened in mid-July. He was only throwing his sinker about 91-93 during this start, but this will give you some idea of how good it can be (great job by Andrew Knizner on the frame, too. A little "stabby" but not awful):
Now, the sinker isn't always lively, and that's part of the reason why he gets into trouble. To compare, take a look at this next .gif. It'll go flat. If he's locating it properly, he can still get away with it. If he's not, then he's in trouble. He locates the hell out of this one:
His slider/changeup mix is going to be the next big part of the conversation. That first .gif in this article is of a beautiful breaking pitch that is categorized as a slider, surprisingly. It can be very good, as demonstrated in that .gif. More often than not, he just doesn't have a feel for it.
Then, there's his changeup. Which, honestly, I don't know what to think of. When it's working, it mimics the sinker perfectly. When it's not working perfectly, it's a sitting duck. THIS, is a good one (I double checked my velocity notes just to make sure that it was a change. Hard to believe with that arm-side run. Really mimics that sinker, right?!):
I still don't have a great feel for what the future of his breaking stuff will be but, right now, it seems like it'll be just enough to make him the Mike Mayers of Seth Maness...es...?
WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!?! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU PEOPLE ARE READING THIS HAHAHAHAHA.
I'm trying to tell you that if Mike Mayers and Seth Maness had a baby, it'd be Connor Jones.
Anyway, what I'm really trying to saying is, he's more dynamic with more velocity out of the bullpen (that's the Mike Mayers part) than Seth Maness, but he's going to do exactly what Seth Maness did as a Cardinal: induce a lot of groundballs using his heavy sinker in the bottom half of the strike zone. What his strikeout numbers will look like will all come down to how the slider continues to develop and which one of his other offerings will develop the most.
One of the reasons that I'd be happy if the Cardinals moved Jones to the bullpen full-time is because I think it would do the repeatability of his motion some good. He definitely does a better job of repeating his motion out of the stretch as opposed to the wind-up. The issue there is, he doesn't command his stuff as well out of the stretch. I'm probably being naïve, but I think that it might do him well to pitch out of the stretch as much as possible regardless of whether he's pitching out of the bullpen or the rotation.
Other than that, I'm not going to bog down this write-up with much more. This is basically the gist of Connor Jones.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The truth is, when you omit a player that will certainly make it to the major leagues from a list of the top thirty-five prospects in any given system, well, you are probably doing it wrong. While Jones isn't my favorite pitching prospect by any means, he's in the minority as a pitching prospect with defined (and appealing) tools to help a major league organization sooner rather than later. Sure, it won't be sexy or awe-inspiring, but it will be good enough to use up a couple of option years. He'll do this while providing both the infield grass and the infield dirt at Busch Stadium with the kneading that it deserves within the next two seasons.
MAY 1st UPDATE
At this point, it's pretty well documented that I am not the biggest fan of Jones, AND that I've always viewed him as a reliever long term. With that being said, I HATE WITH EVERY OUNCE OF ME that the Cardinals have already turned him into a reliever in the minors. He needs the innings, even as a 24-year-old. Sending him to the pen to start the season really feels like a death sentence to his, to me. Also, it's a pointless move because the Cardinals are just using minor league veterans to fill those innings, not their own players with a potential major league future.
Anyway, Jones is a pen arm now. He's been fine.
Thank you to FanGraphs for providing the stats within this article.
Thanks For Reading!!