Yankees are seeing top outfield prospect get off to an excellent start

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Miami Marlins
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Spencer Jones is one of the most exciting prospects the Yankees have had in their organization in recent years, possessing some of the most enticing skills you could imagine. With his elite raw power and excellent speed tool, the upside is seemingly limitless for the 23-year-old out of Vanderbilt. The physical skills did still need refinement, as Jones would have to work on his ability to make consistent contact while also elevating the ball, and while it’s still very early into the season, we’ve seen him do just early on.

What’s stood out about his early-season success has been the decrease in groundball rate while also cutting down on his strikeout rate, and we could see him have that breakout season that would put him into the conversation for the best prospect in baseball.

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MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
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Getting caught up in prospect hype can be a dangerous thing, but there are ways to do it without going overboard. When it comes to Spencer Jones, the excitement around his profile is more than justified, as his physical skills are unmatched by most athletes on the planet. Loden Sports graded his athleticism ahead of the 2022 MLB Draft, and he was graded out as a 9; finishing within the top 0.82% of all athletes that they’ve graded out in their system. In fact, he was one of the 0.22% of athletes who received a 9 in both power and speed, a representation of his outlier skillset.

What makes Spencer Jones stand out is how well he runs despite being as tall as he is, something that’s allowed him to patrol centerfield and play the position at a high level. When we did our top 30 list for the Yankees organization, what stood out to me was how strong the defensive upside was here if he plays centerfield full-time at the level he has at the professional level thus far, we’re looking at a potential Gold Glove candidate who has the range and arm to hang with the best outfielders in the sport.

People compare him to Aaron Judge, but I think there are plenty of issues with that comparison. Someone I think serves as a better comparison for the Yankees’ 2022 first-round pick is Elly De La Cruz of the Cincinnati Reds.

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MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Cincinnati Reds
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De La Cruz is an electric factory, a toolsy infielder with excellent offensive skills that come with plenty of strikeouts but also plenty of power. His bat path was a problem last year, resulting in a lot of groundballs and hurting his game power despite having ridiculous raw power skills. The difference between raw and game power is that raw power cares only about how well you impact the ball with exit velocities, while your game power pays more attention to power production, and there are hitters who either over or underperform the raw power tool.

Spencer Jones only had 16 home runs last season, an example of underperforming your raw power, while a guy like Mookie Betts hit 39 home runs, overperforming his raw power grades. It isn’t just plain luck, it comes down to how your batted ball distribution and ability to get the ball in the air reliably. Since Jones ran high groundball rates and didn’t pull the ball in the air often, a lot of his hardest-hit baseballs didn’t find the seats, whereas Mookie Betts is pulling baseballs in the air for home runs.

Thus far, we’re seeing an increase in pull rate and a decrease in groundball rate, two things that could help Jones improve upon his middling slugging numbers from last season. What we’re also seeing is his strikeout rate (20.7%) come down a lot as well, which is a huge improvement that could allow Jones to rocket through the system. If he keeps up this pace, don’t be surprised to see him with the Scranton RailRiders by the All-Star Break and that would put him just a step away from the Major Leagues.

I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to see Spencer Jones join the Yankees this season, but I said the same thing about Jasson Dominguez last April. Granted, these are two different teams, as the Yankees hope they aren’t treading .500 with no outfield talent in August, but perhaps their hand is forced here. Sometimes a prospect plays so well that you just cannot ignore them, as was the case with Evan Carter last season. The Texas Rangers won the World Series because of an aggressive promotion of their top prospect at the time, as he posted a 155 wRC+ and .917 OPS in 17 playoff games.

If Spencer Jones continues to keep the ball in the air and keep the strikeout rate below 25%, we might be looking at the best prospect in baseball. The defensive value in centerfield and his blazing speed make him a potential WAR darling, and it’ll allow him to contribute even when the bat isn’t. Still, I think the right developmental path for him is to take the season to work on his skills at Double-A and Triple-A, as the Yankees try to acquire proven MLB talent in hopes of winning the World Series.

We’re still very early into the season, but Spencer Jones is hoping to play his way into conversations that the Yankees dreamed about when they drafted him two years ago.

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