Lakeland, Fla. – Tigers prospect JaCoby Jones was among the last group of players to leave the back fields Sunday afternoon.
He and fellow prospect Dominic Ficociello, teammates on the Arizona Fall League championship team in November, finished up by taking ground balls at third base from coach Omar Vizquel.
He probably would have preferred to stay on the field a while longer. He knew reporters were waiting to talk to him. He knew this was coming. He had yet to talk about his 50-game suspension for violating minor league baseball’s drug policy.
“I had a drug violation,” he said. “I violated the drug policy. I can’t say much more about it than that. I will serve my suspension and just look forward to playing ball.”
It was his second offense, both for recreational drug use, not performance-enhancing. It was handed down with 12 games remaining in the Arizona Fall League. He has 38 more games to serve.
Jones, acquired from the Pirates in July for Joakim Soria, is considered the sixth-best prospect in the Tigers organization by Baseball Prospectus, seventh by The Detroit News and ninth by MLB Pipeline. He finished strong at Double-A Erie last season and was having a productive fall league, hitting .280 with two homers in 50 at-bats. The suspension cost him a chance to play in the AFL All-Star game (he was selected) and the championship game.
“It was a stupid mistake,” he said. “It was a reality check. I’m disappointed. Now I am just looking to getting spring going, getting better and learning from the guys up here. I am excited to move forward and learn from my mistake.”
Jones admitted he was surprised, in the wake of the suspension, that he was invited to big league camp.
“Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “It’s a big deal and a good thing for me. I am excited to learn with this great group of guys. It’s my first big league camp, so I am really excited about it.”
The Tigers are following the protocol set forth by Major League Baseball in terms of counseling and monitoring Jones. That part of his development is cut and dry. His baseball development, though, is a little murky.
The Tigers like his bat but aren’t quite sure where to play him.
“We have talked about that,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He played center field (early in his career) at LSU. He was a shortstop in high school. He hasn’t played outfield other than his first seven games of pro ball.
“Then we hear the reports that when he played center field he was tremendous. We haven’t decided what we are going to do with him.”
Jones’ primary position at LSU was second base. He played third base for the first time in Arizona this fall.
Ask him where he wants to play.
“Wherever they tell me,” he said. “It’s not my decision, it’s theirs’. I am athletic enough to play pretty much anywhere on the field, so wherever they put me.”
Ask him if it would be better for his development if he could focus on one position.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe I will just be a utility guy and come in at second, short, third or the outfield. It doesn’t matter to me.”
Ask him what position feels most natural to him.
“I grew up playing shortstop my whole life,” he said. “Then when I went to college I went to the Cape (Cape Cod collegiate league) for two years and played center field every day.
So shortstop and center field probably.
“And I played second base my whole career at LSU. I am still learning third base. I played there in the Fall League. I don’t know where they are going to have me now. I am sure I will move all over the field.”
Tigers prospect JaCoby Jones talks about his suspension, his first big league camp and positions he can play.
Ausmus seems to be leaning that way, too.
“Maybe he is one of those guys who can play all those positions and be a kind of Ben Zobrist-type guy who moves around,” he said. “But I still think there is time. He is still developing as a hitter and a player.”
Ausmus hopes some of the mystery can be cleared up this spring.
“We have to decide if we want to move him around or do we want to stick him in one position, and that decision hasn’t been made,” he said. “And even if it’s made, it could change a year from now. If he’s really as good an outfielder as the reports say, that kind of changes things."
Jones isn’t going to make the decision easy because he not only is open to playing anywhere or everywhere, he also has the tools to do it.
“I don’t really care, to be honest,” he said. “As long as I get into the lineup. Wherever the team needs me the most to win games. It makes no difference to me as long as I hit four times.”
Jones will remain in Lakeland when camp breaks in April and participate in the team’s extended spring training program. He will be able to play in extended spring training games while serving the remainder of his suspension.