Jones slugging on the fast track at Double A Erie

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

How soon he arrives in Detroit isn’t precisely known.

All his manager, Lance Parrish, knows is that JaCoby Jones is on path to play in the big leagues. And perhaps soon.

“He’s a very gifted player, I will say that,” Parrish said Saturday night, after Jones had smacked a pair of singles and stolen a base in Double A Erie’s 4-2 victory over Richmond.

“He’s about as close to a five-tool player as you’ll get. A very, very good runner, with outstanding speed, and he has tremendous power to all fields. This man can hit.”

Jones, 24, is batting .347 with a regal 1.15 OPS in 12 games since he joined the SeaWolves following a 50-game suspension for using a “drug of abuse.” Internally, the Tigers have viewed Jones’ suspension as more a matter of mischief than malevolence, which is why his return was regarded as a happy event, with no strings attached, when he joined Parrish and the SeaWolves.

Jones’ big OPS is not only a product of a hefty batting average, but of a .735 slugging percentage wrought from four home runs, three doubles, and two triples. One of those homers, which came in Sunday’s 5-2 victory over Richmond, was a mammoth shot off the clubhouses beyond the center-field fence at Jerry Uht Park.

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Jones, a right-handed batter, is 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, and was the Tigers’ reimbursement last July when they sent reliever Joakim Soria to the Pirates. A native Mississippian, Jones was a third-round pick by the Pirates in 2013 after starring at Louisiana State.

He is a player so versatile he can play center field or either left-side infield position, including shortstop. The Tigers, though, have decided shortstop is in Jones’ rearview mirror. And, so, perhaps is third base steadily losing the battle to center as Jones’ outfield skills become more overwhelming.

“In my estimation, he’s probably a better center fielder than anything,” Parrish said. “He can run down balls most guys cannot get to. I know he played wide receiver in football, so he’s got a pretty good idea on getting jumps on balls, on reading balls. He can cover some ground.

“He’s not too shabby on the infield, either. He does a pretty good job at third, and he did fine at shortstop last year, although he’s not playing shortstop now. But he can do that.

“The only thing lacking is superior arm strength,” Parrish said. “He’s got a good arm, but not what you’d consider a cannon.

“But the speed … he’s the kind of guy when he hits a ground ball, you better hurry up and make a play, because he can fly down that line.”

So why is he at Erie rather than giving the Tigers a hand?

There is work to do, Parrish acknowledges. Jones has struck out 324 times in 276 minor league games, including 14 times for the SeaWolves. It’s not unusual for power hitters to average somewhere near a strikeout per game. But in Jones’ case the whiffs prove why Double A, and perhaps a stint at Triple A, are in the cards ahead of any trip to Detroit.

“If there’s anything he really needs to work on, it’s his understanding of the strike zone,” Parrish said. “He has a tendency to chase balls out of the zone, because he’s a very aggressive swinger, and sometimes that catches up with him. When he connects, he connects, and he’s got tremendous power to all fields — I mean everywhere.

“From my perspective, that’s about the only thing that’s going to hold him back for a while. If he had that mastered at this point, he’d be in the big leagues, no question in my mind.

“It’s very difficult to keep a guy from being aggressive at the plate,” Parrish said. “So we want to continue to work on pitch-recognition and make sure he understands that hitting is hard enough — that you want to make a pitcher throw the ball over the plate.

“He’s working on that. He’s getting a little better. Right now, it’s a little bit of an issue. But not a glaring one.”