Yankees prospect Spencer Jones isn’t Aaron Judge, but he’s still special

It’s hard to watch Yankees outfield prospect Spencer Jones play baseball and not think of Aaron Judge.

Frankly, this is an irresponsible and lazy comparison, a scout would humiliate you before stealing your Marriott points as punishment. Jones is a promising 22-year-old with a .797 OPS for the High-A Hudson Valley Renegades. Judge is the current MVP who recently broke the coveted decades-old home run record.

One has been in his professional baseball career for less than a year and plays his home games in Wappingers Falls, New York. The other has $360 million in his bank account over the next ten seasons and will one day see his number 99 missing by the most successful organization in the game. It’s like comparing apples and pads, shoelaces and oranges.

But let’s be irresponsible for a moment.

Jones, like his big league counterpart, is a towering six-foot-tall dynamo capable of playing in the midfield and regularly generating top-of-the-charts batting speeds. As a junior at Vanderbilt University last spring, Jones hit 22 balls in excess of 110 mph, including one for 119. Judge is one of the few players to have a run-out speed of 119 or more.

So while their athletic styles differ — Judge has what you might call a tight physicality, while the more stoic Jones looks like a world-class volleyball player — the base-level similarity is somewhat inescapable. And the simple fact that there could be another pinstripe-home-run-beating Goliath on its way to the Bronx is reason enough to get involved.

And on Saturday afternoon, the Yankee farmhand’s skills will be on full display against some of the game’s most talented prospects as part of the annual MLB Futures Game. And thanks to his left-handed light tower skills, Jones is a good bet to put on a memorable performance during the pre-game batting practice festivities.

Born and raised in the baseball heartland of San Diego, California, Jones eventually attended La Costa Canyon High School, a SoCal baseball powerhouse. The captain of the varsity team in Jones’ senior year was current Angels outfielder and former No. 1 Overall pick Mickey Maniac. And even though it was three years before Jones was in Moniac Canyon, the two have remained in touch.

Moniac, who is currently in the midst of a breakout season for Anaheim, told Fox Sports via text message, “He’s always had stupid juice.” “All the time I thought he was going to pitch. However, was I wrong. I kept trying to tell him to leave like Randy Johnson and he wouldn’t listen to me. I just decided to rake. ,

Throughout most of his high school career, Jones was highly rated by scouts as a pitcher, and for good reason: He threw a low-90s heater with his left arm and had a ton of physicality. It was a launch. But instead of turning professional right away from high school – the Angels took him on a Flyer in the 31st round in 2019 – the talented Californian accepted a scholarship to play at Vanderbilt University, one of the top college baseball programs in the country. Two way player.

“I wasn’t very interested in pitching,” Jones told before a recent High-A game. “I never really hit enough. I just like to go out and hit.

Sadly, Jones’ first year in 2020 didn’t go according to plan. First, the pandemic limited him to just 14 games before the end of the season, and then, while pitching in a local California summer league, Jones fell victim to the old baseball bogeyman: a torn left UCL and Tommy John surgery.

But according to Jones, that surgery and recovery process was a blessing in disguise, a major turning point in his career and the last time he saw himself as a pitcher.

“When I tore it, I picked up the phone and called the coaches, I said, ‘Hey, I’ve had surgery. I don’t want to rehabilitate as a pitcher. I want to rehabilitate as a position player. I want to reach there as soon as possible.

“I was always nice, but didn’t really know why I was nice. To be honest, you know, talent always beats hard work at that level. But when I went to Tommy, John made me realize how much you really have to contribute if you want to develop yourself at a higher level.

After nine months of rehabilitation, Jones returned to action as Vanderbilt’s part-time DH in 2021 before joining the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League. That summer, while living with his grandparents in The Cape, the then-20-year-old rediscovered his stroke, hit .309 with two bombs and attracted many googly eyes from MLB scouts.

“This was my dream as a child. I wasn’t worried about professional baseball, I just wanted to be with my grandparents and play in the Cape. That summer helped me appreciate myself for not taking myself too seriously. My grandparents will still love me whether they kill me or kill me 4…”

Jones turned that strong performance into a stellar junior spring for the Commodores, batting .370/.460/.644 and being named a 2022 First Team All-SEC selection. A few months later, the Yankees grabbed him with their first-round pick, handed him a $2.88 million bonus, and the judges’ comparisons began.

Yankees batting coordinator Joe Migliaccio explains, “From a 30,000-foot view, you can see a lot of physical similarities between Spencer and Judge.” “But as you get closer, you see some differences. They are different hitters, that’s for sure.”

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Heading into last off-season, the Yankees organization knew their young rising outfielder was incredibly adept at hitting the ball hard, but they wanted him to lift more. Migliaccio pointed out that taking a “one size fits all” approach to Jones’ mechanics could be detrimental to his development.

“Just because Judge can rotate his hips in one direction, doesn’t mean Spencer can do the same. and vice versa. It’s important to ask in a biomechanical way, how do their bodies work?”

Instead, the Yankees developed a plan specifically tailored to Jones, which was accomplished by (1) moving his hands closer to his body and (2) engaging the hip during more counter-rotation in his butt from his swing path”. focused on “cutting the fat”. loading phase. Both are moves that stray a bit from some of Judge’s mechanical mainstays.

The two skyscrapers met during spring training, presumably, during the game.

“I talked to him a little bit in the weight room in the spring,” the reigning AL MVP, who is currently out with a toe injury, told Fox Sports. “They asked questions as to what I was doing there. I gave him some things. The main thing is that you are already a strong person, you are already big enough. Don’t kill yourself in the weight room. It’s all about conservation. ,

Jones says he’s learned a lot from watching a big grader like Judge do his daily chores at camp and knows that his interactions with the face of the franchise will certainly increase as he moves up the organizational ladder. For now, Jones is focused on continuing to improve his launch angle and swing decisions. The road between High-A and the greats is long and fraught with danger, even for someone as talented as Jones.

“Right now it’s all about putting the pieces together [of my swing] At the right time at the right place. You know? Don’t feel like a robot. Making sure I feel athletic out there.”

jack mintzstrong half of @cespedesbbq is the baseball writer for Fox Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and bikes, sometimes at the same time. follow him on twitter @Jake_Mintz,

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