Continuing this afternoon with our 2016 MLB Draft preview series, we turn our attention to University of Virginia right-hander Connor Jones. Viewed as a potential first-round pick when the college season began, he's lived up to the billing and should hear his name called on the first day. Let's take a look.
Jones is a Virginia native and attended Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake. He was viewed as a possible third round pick on draft day in 2013 but his firm committment to the University of Virginia knocked down his stock and he fell to the 21st round, drafted by the San Diego Padres. He didn't sign (obviously).
His college career opened with a steady freshman season in the Cavaliers bullpen, throwing 55 innings over 25 outings (one start, 24 relief) with a 3.13 ERA and a 40/23 K/BB. He gave up just 42 hits and zero homers. He moved into the starting rotation as a sophomore in 2015 without trouble, posting a 3.19 ERA over 18 starts with a 115/32 K/BB in 116 innings, allowing just 94 hits and four homers.
Jones is the confirmed ace of the staff this year, going 9-1, 1.95 in his first 11 starts with a 55/27 K/BB in 78 innings, allowing just 60 hits. Once again hitters have a hard time driving him for distance, hitting just two homers.
Strongly built at 6-3, 210, Jones features a four-pitch mix. The key is his sinking fastball in the 90-94 range, a pitch that plays above the radar velocity due to its action low in the zone. He has both two-seam and four-seam varieties to give hitters a different look and he commands both types well. His second pitch is a slider, slightly above-average by most accounts right now with a good chance to be firmly in the plus range with a few more reps. Some observers report a softer curveball which needs work but also has big league potential, though he doesn't use this as much as the slider. He finishes the set with a solid change-up. Jones also draws good reviews for his makeup and mound presence, and so far he's been quite durable.
The main sabermetric caution flag is his strikeout rate, rather low for a college ace, though he generates a lot of soft contact with the fastball. I suspect the key in pro ball will be finishing the development of his breaking stuff. Overall, Jones projects as a mid-rotation starter and a mid-first round pick.
Prospect Junkies saw Jones pitch last week and filed a detailed report which you should go read. He notes the relative mediocrity of Jones' curve and says that Jones didn't use his change-up much last week, though other sources indicate he used it more frequently earlier in the year and describe it as being almost like a splitter. Junkies also notes that Jones' delivery seems more compact than earlier in his career.
Prospect Junkies has some good video taken from Jones' most recent start last week. Did I mention that you should read Prospect Junkies?
More video from Baseball America