Yesterday the Detroit Tigers promoted rookie JaCoby Jones to the major league roster. He went 2-for-4 in his MLB debut against the Chicago White Sox, driving in two. Jones has been an enigma as a prospect for several reasons; let's explore.
JaCoby Jones, SS, Detroit Tigers
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-3 WT: 200 DOB: May 10, 1992
2014: Grade C+; 2015: Grade B-
The Tigers acquired JaCoby Jones from the Pirates last summer for Joakim Soria. Dating back to his days at LSU he has been a puzzle for evaluators, featuring first-round physical tools but a very inconsistent approach to the game, riddles that dropped him to the third round in the ’13 draft. Jones has above-average power, above-average speed, and an above-average throwing arm. At times he shows the skills to make those tools work on the field and looks like a star. Other times he doesn’t look like he knows what the hell he’s doing. On the positive side Jones has come a long way with the glove, cutting down on mental mistakes and showing the range and arm strength of a quality shortstop. Unfortunately progress has been less impressive with the bat. He remains a hacker and without more adjustments he’ll have trouble maintaining his batting average and OBP at acceptable levels. He will also begin 2016 on the suspension list for a "drug of abuse." I like the tools enough to hold with a Grade B- but there’s considerable risk.
After serving his suspension Jones opened 2016 with Double-A Erie, hitting a robust .312/.393/.597 in 77 at-bats. After 20 games he was promoted to Triple-A Toledo where he hit an anemic .243/.309/.356 in 292 at-bats. International League pitchers were able to exploit his tendency to chase pitches outside the strike zone. He did steal 13 bases and added additional positions to his resume, spending much of the season in center field and performing decently enough. The Tigers gave him the start at third base in his MLB debut.
Unfortunately 2016 doesn't resolve the JaCoby Jones Enigma. His physical tools are obvious if you see him in person, but the results can vary wildly. On the right day the ball jumps off his bat, but his swing varies from "hey, that swing looks really good" to "has he ever held a bat before?" from game to game and sometimes from at-bat to at-bat. At times he controls the strike zone reasonably but he also goes through long stretches where he swings at impossible pitches while letting meatball fastballs down the middle go by without a swing.
If a timetraveler from the year 2025 told us that Jones eventually added polish and turned into a .280 hitter with 20 homers a year, that's plausible. If they told us he never made the adjustments, hit .197 in the majors and wound up in the Mexican League, well, that's plausible too.
Sometimes you just have to say "I don't know" and that's where I am on JaCoby Jones.