Yankees can expect Spencer Jones to be elite in 2023

spencer jones, yankees

The Yankees used their 2022 1st Round Pick on 6’7 outfielder Spencer Jones, a left-handed slugger from Vanderbilt University. Despite the fact that the Yankees (as per usual) were picking in the latter half of the 1st Round, they selected a premier talent in Jones.

The 21-year-old put up strong numbers in his pro debut, slashing .344/.425/.538 with a 173 wRC+ and 4 HRs in his first 106 Plate Appearances in the Complex League and Single-A. He only struck out in 18.9% of PAs, displaying an advanced hit tool for what he was projected to be at, though this was again in a small sample size.

With elite exit velocities, a frame that reminds you of recently-extended superstar Aaron Judge, and a left-handed swing built for Yankee Stadium, Spencer Jones looks to shoot up prospect boards in 2023.

Ridiculous Exit Velocities

Spencer Jones has already clocked a Max Exit Velocity of 111.3 MPH in his first 25 MiLB games with a 112.2 MPH Max EV at the MLB Combine with a wooden bat. He set the record for hardest hit baseball ever recorded at the collegiate level with a 119.1 MPH rocket in his final season with Vanderbilt, making him a historic power threat. What holds Jones back is his inability to consistently generate ideal launch angles since if he isn’t lifting the ball enough, he’s not going to be able to optimize his elite HR power.

Hitting the ball hard is remarkably important, despite what people may say about the importance of contact. Contact is important, but there is such a thing as “bad” contact, where as consistently hitting the ball hard will yield great results. When we look at the top of Max Exit Velocity leaderboards, we find some of the best hitters in the sport going forward.

  1. Oneil Cruz (122.4 MPH)
  2. Giancarlo Stanton (119.8 MPH)
  3. Shohei Ohtani (119.1 MPH)
  4. Aaron Judge (118.4 MPH)
  5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (118.4 MPH)

The worst projected wRC+ in this group would be Oneil Cruz’s 120 projected wRC+, and he’s still just 24 years old. Having historically great exit velocities open up a world of high-ceiling outcomes, with three of those five players winning an MVP at some point in their career. Jones often gets the Aaron Judge comparison, and for good reason. At the same height as Judge, drafted to the same team as Judge, and also being a CF who was converted to RF for reasons unrelated to athleticism, there are a lot of similarities on the field as well.

aaron judge, yankees
Sep 18, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge (99) gestures after hitting an RBI double during the ninth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Judge had the better collegiate career, but if we look at their final years at college, we can see that they were remarkably similar offensive players production-wise.

  • Aaron Judge 2013
    • 246 PAs
    • .369/461/.655
    • 12 HRs
    • 21.5% K%
    • 14.2% BB%
  • Spencer Jones 2022
    • 272 PAs
    • .370/.460/.644
    • 12 HRs
    • 23.5% K%
    • 11.8% BB%

Relative to high-level prospects drafted around them, they’re both high strikeout bats with ridiculous power but underwhelming HR totals relative to that power. Judge had to iron out his HR swing as he developed with the Yankees, not registering a full professional season with an ISO above .200 until 2016 at the age of 24, one year before he’d break Mark McGwire’s rookie HR record with 52 HRs. With the power Jones possesses, it’s not unreasonable to suggest we could look at a hitter posting an OPS+ between 120-130 if he ever even partially translates more of his Raw Power into his Game Power.

Underrated Defense

Spencer Jones was a former pitcher before suffering an elbow fracture that required Tommy John Surgery. His arm strength is phenomenal, and his range is great as well. As stated previously, he’s not in RF because he can’t play CF but because of the fact that Vanderbilt has defensive star Enrique Bradfield patrolling CF for them. Jones has remarkable speed for his frame with great athleticism, making him a very underrated candidate to eventually take over CF or the challenging LF of Yankee Stadium.

His large frame and blistering speed allow him to get to baseballs other outfielders simply can’t get to (sound like anyone familiar?). He’s going to be able to not only rob HRs but also track down baseballs or get to balls that would normally go over the head of a smaller outfielder with the same great speed, just like Aaron Judge does. The defensive profile is great, and we could see Spencer Jones put up elite defensive metrics, at least as a corner outfielder. It remains to be seen if he can stick in CF, but that shouldn’t be ruled out, considering Aaron Judge was also able to do it at his size.

What the Yankees Need to Correct With Spencer Jones

One of the biggest issues with Spencer Jones is his swing path, as while he absolutely hammers the ball, he also struggles to generate loft. Having ideal launch angles is remarkably important, as not hitting enough flyballs severely limits one’s HR output, thus worsening their actual production. Jones needs to correct this issue, but again Aaron Judge also struggled to his optimal launch angle in college as well. It’s unrealistic to expect Spencer Jones to be what Aaron Judge has been, but there’s a very recent success story in the organization for him to model.

spencer jones, yankees
May 27, 2022; Hoover, AL, USA; Vanderbilt right fielder Spencer Jones (34) fields a single hit by a Kentucky batter in the SEC Tournament at the Hoover Met in Hoover, Ala., Thursday. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News Sports Sec Baseball Tournament Vanderbilt Vs Kentucky

Another aspect of Jones’ offensive profile that needs work is his hit tool, and while I mentioned in the opening that he ran a low K% in his professional debut, it’s a small sample size. There’s also a chance that as you introduce more loft, you increase your whiffs, and as you face better competition at higher levels of MiLB, you’ll also come across nastier stuff that will also inflate your strikeouts. It’s really difficult to project his hit tool, but as of right now, I’d say the sheer amount of question marks makes it below average.

Whiffs are inherent in his type of profile as a large power hitter, as he’s subject to dealing with a larger strike zone, but there’s a point where the whiffs are too much. If he’s able to keep them at a reasonable rate, he’ll flourish offensively. He’s already displayed great traits in terms of in-zone swing rates and solid chase rates in college, and if those swing decisions translate, he won’t be a hitter who’s too passive or aggressive for their power profile.

The raw tools are all the way there for Jones, it’s polishing the finer details that will help turn Jones from just a Statcast monster to a Statcast monster with monster results. With that being said, if there’s any organization that can figure it out with a 6’7 slugging outfielder, it’s the New York Yankees.

What To Expect in 2023 Out of Spencer Jones

With elite power and athleticism, the ceiling is ridiculously high for the Vanderbilt star. The Yankees have drafted and scouted extremely well over the last few years, as their team infuses the young talent they’ve developed so well. From breakouts like Oswaldo Cabrera to former 1st Round Picks like Anthony Volpe, they’re starting to become an organization known for having a strong farm system and good prospects. Spencer Jones is entering an extremely forward-minded organization, and adopting the “hit strikes hard” mantra should play into his strengths very well.

spencer jones, yankees
Vanderbilt right fielder Spencer Jones (34) hits a single against Texas A&M during the eighth inning at Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, April 28, 2022. Vandy Tam Base 042822 An 010

When the Yankees selected Jones, they opted for a player they knew could have some real risk but also has incredible upside. He’s received plenty of lofty comparisons to Aaron Judge, now captain of the New York Yankees, but the power definitely warrants these sky-high comparisons. Spencer Jones should look to try to debut with the High-A team in Hudson Valley, and while I expect him to run into trouble with contact at first, when he clicks, he’ll burst onto the scene.

We’ve seen how Austin Wells hit the ground running in his first season as a pro in 2021, with defense most likely being the only reason he didn’t start in Double-A in 2022. Trey Sweeney was able to reach Double-A in just his first full season with the organization, so clearly, the Yankees have adopted an approach that encourages accelerated growth. He’s a college bat, just like the two first-round picks before him, so his ETA could even sooner than MLB Pipeline’s 2025 prediction.

Spencer Jones is getting his first full season with the Yankees in 2023, and it’s a huge one for his development. The Yankees could be looking at a future #1 prospect in the organization with Volpe, Peraza, Dominguez, and Wells all graduating over the next two years, hopefully. With great power comes great responsibility, but in baseball, with great power comes a great future.