I know that we are in the midst of a rebuild and that we’ve already amassed a large group of young pitchers in the upper levels. I understand that we aren’t competing yet so these moves are more for three to four years down the road after these guys get some more major league experience. We also have a throng of young guys that got MLB time this year and did a decent job. That being said, I think we need to add some more guys to compete for a spot in the MLB bullpen and starting spots. Don’t misinterpret me. I’m not talking about some random cast of veterans getting spots in front of the rookies or young guys. I’m talking about the young guys.
I want to add Connor Jones, RHP, from the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Jones was a second round pick from Virginia in 2016. The Cardinals have been giving him the chance to be a starting pitcher since he was drafted. Jones was a Team USA participant and an All-American in college. He is listed at 6’3″ and 200. He made it to Memphis last season for a short while before finishing the year back at Springfield.
Let’s just call Jones an extreme groundball pitcher. There might not be a guy in the minors who is better at getting groundballs. In fact, he lead all of baseball in ground out to fly out ratio. In his 6.0 innings of work against the Travelers on July 14, he induced 17 groundballs. In fact, this was the fourth game in a six game streak of double digit groundballs. On June 1, against San Antonio, Jones got 16 groundballs. Most of the foul balls he gives up in games are on the ground as well. He only has given up 9 HRs in 244.2 innings.
Jones starts from a hybrid windup with the left foot in front of the right. His windup is a little herky jerky with the high, quick leg lift. He seems to lift too hard sometimes and throw himself off balance. I think this is why he had a little bit of a control issue this year with his fastball. If he can soften the leg lift, he can stay on line better because his balance won’t be off.
Jones is more over the top than a lot of people although it isn’t an extreme over the top motion. Jones uses it to really get over the top of his two-seamer using pronation. I had a conversation with him in Springfield last year after a game about how he throws this pitch and gets so much movement. He was very cordial and took the time to show me the grip, release, and wrist positioning which I’m going to try on some of my HS pitchers this winter as we work on their two-seamers.
Jones works 93 to 94 with that heavy fastball. His curve is a more traditional curve with movement close to 12-6. It is very sharp. He has a change up but doesn’t use it as much. As I sit and watch this Red Sox v. Astros game, I keep thinking his curve looks a lot like Charlie Morton’s curve. Morton is an okay comp overall with the movement on the fastball, but Morton’s arm slot is lower.
The knock on Jones and the reason he might be available is his control. He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out at 6.5 K/9 and his walk rate is high at 4.00 BB/9 last year. I think time in the bullpen would help him clean this up as he wouldn’t be working as long in games and could really focus on throwing strikes and attacking hitters. With the amount of groundballs he gets, he doesn’t need to strike as many guys out.
Jones is listed as the Cardinals 30th best prospect according to MLB Pipeline. There may not be a place for him in STL with youngsters Hudson, Woodford, Flaherty, and Poncedeleon ahead of him. He may be someone the Cardinals aren’t look as an answer long term with the flashier prospects ahead of him.
I have no idea what a trade would look like, but adding Jones would be something I would try to do this off season. I would immediately give him a shot to make the big league bullpen even though he may not have the pedigree people think he should to be promoted. He could replace Hammel or Maurer and I think we would improve in the pen. Some will say we should bring up Staumont or Lovelady first and give the chance to some of our Rule 5 eligible guys. Maybe that should be the case. But competition is the best thing to make our team better. My hope would be he would end up in the rotation after some more experience and learning to keep that sinking fastball in the zone. Jones is throwing in the Arizona Fall League so we can continue to watch him versus the best the minors has to offer. If you get the chance, watch some film, see what you think.
Picture from the Springfield Cardinals website.