Chris Jones is thankful for his new opportunity
This is the first "Offseason Spotlight" piece and more will continue to post on current and former Indians' prospects leading up to the start of spring training. Today we catch up with former IPI favorite Chris Jones.
Today is Thanksgiving, which is time when so many of us get together with our families and enjoy lots of food and spirits, and get ready for the madness that is the start of the holiday season. A lot of people also take the time to reflect on the things in their life that they are thankful for.
It was just a little over a year ago when left-handed pitcher Chris Jones was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Atlanta Braves for right-handed pitcher Derek Lowe, a deal consummated on another holiday of sorts, Halloween.
Jones, 24, had been kind of stuck in a rut with the Indians and was not moving at the pace he probably would have liked to in the organization, but the trade opened up a new opportunity for him with a new team. While he left behind many friends he made over his five years in the organization, the new beginning in the Braves’ minor league system afforded him a chance to start anew and get a better opportunity than the one he was getting with the Indians.
“I was [drafted and signed] out of high school, so the Indians pretty much taught me how to play the professional style of baseball,” Jones said to the IPI in a recent interview. “They did a lot of good things for me. It was kind of hard [to be traded] as I had been with them for five years and I knew everybody and was really close with everyone, but obviously from a career standpoint the [Braves] liked something about me. So it is a good situation for me and it has been fun so far.”
Jones was well into his offseason when he got the news from Indians Vice President of Player Development Ross Atkins that he had been traded. The trade came completely out of nowhere and was something he was not expecting.
“I was still sleeping and it was 10 o’clock in the morning when Ross called me and told me about it,” Jones recalled. “[Braves Director of Minor League Operations] Ronnie Richardson called me right after Ross and I had a good conversation with him. It was real short and he said they were excited to have me. Shortly after that it was on the clicker on ESPN. I was already working out with a personal trainer, so the Braves just said keep doing what you are doing and we will see you in spring training. So I got ready to enter a whole new world.”
Jones went to spring training and impressed, and the Braves assigned him to Double-A Mississippi to start the season and that is where he stayed the entire year. He made 45 appearances out of the bullpen and went 2-5 with a 3.90 ERA, and in 60.0 innings he allowed 69 hits, 1 home run, 19 walks, and had 61 strikeouts.
In five seasons in the Indians organization from 2007-2011, Jones never pitched above High-A Kinston, so he was happy for the opportunity to move up to Double-A.
“It was great,” Jones said. “I learned a lot in my first year at Double-A. I had a lot to learn and the first part of the season was more of a learning experience, and once I got used to it I kept getting better the rest of the season. I ended the season strong and August (11 G, 2.87 ERA, 12.6 K/9) was definitely my best month of the year.”
Jones is not a hard thrower as he throws an average fastball that gets good arm side tail and sits at 88-90 MPH and touches 92 MPH, and his curveball is a plus offering and considered the best pitch in his arsenal. His deceptive, unconventional delivery to go along with a very good curveball makes him tough on lefties, which is why many feel he could become a good matchup lefty out of the pen.
Jones maintained his stuff this season and really did not tweak a lot with his mechanics. He just kept working on his fastball command and the consistency of his outings.
“I just added some little things,” Jones said. “My pitching coach in Double-A asked what I had worked on the past couple of years with the Indians and he watched it, and we implemented some little things from there. At the end of the season we added a cutter which I don’t throw very much, but is a [good pitch to use against right-handers].”
Jones recently pitched in the Arizona Fall League where he made ten appearances and went 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA. In 15.2 innings he allowed 14 hits, 2 home runs, 7 walks, and had 11 strikeouts. The move to a full time bullpen role has really benefitted him, and he hopes he can use the experience he gained in Double-A and the AFL this past season as a springboard into an even more successful campaign next season.
“I love pitching in the bullpen,” Jones said. “At times I miss starting, but I like being in games, and in the bullpen you can be in more games. I know the bullpen is not as [valued] as the starters, but any way I can get to the big leagues does not matter to me. Next year I want to keep going and go to another level. Even if I repeat Double-A I’d like to see Triple-A, and of course I always have the main goal [of making it to the big leagues].”
If the opportunity arises, Jones will most certainly be ready for it.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.