Greg Jones skyrocketed up MLB draft boards as a senior at Cary High in North Carolina in 2017. Considered an early-round pick, Jones fell on draft day due to signability concerns.
The Baltimore Orioles selected the shortstop in the 17th round of the 2017 draft and offered him more than $1 million to try to entice him away from his commitment to University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Jones wasn’t interested. Looking back on the opportunity, he said he wasn’t physically and mentally prepared for the professional ranks. He also was eager to attend college and be on his own for the first time.
He’s in his second season at UNCW. After a respectable freshman campaign, Jones is a draft-eligible sophomore this year. Baseball America ranks Jones as the 22nd-best college prospect for June’s draft.
“Going through the draft process already helps this year,” Jones said. “You learn how to block the external factors out of the game. I am just try to take it game by game. Game days I am ready to play the game right in front of me and am not thinking about the future.”
Jones, who’s 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, posted a .278 batting average with four home runs and 21 RBIs in 227 at-bats as a freshman last year. He struck out 70 times while drawing 33 walks and getting hit by 19 pitches. He also stole 16 bases.
He batted .242 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 132 at-bats in the Cape Cod League last summer. He also notched 21 stolen bases but struggled at the plate, striking out 47 times while drawing 24 walks.
In five games this season, Jones has a .278 average, three RBIs and two stolen bases in 18 at-bats.
“As a freshman, I played a pretty big role,” Jones said. “It was either step up or get left behind. I chose to step up. That just shows what I can be this year.”
Jones’ game offensively and defensively is predicated off his elite speed.
His speed is one reason why he became a switch-hitter. At 9 years old, Jones learned how to hit from the left side of the plate. He thought batting left-handed would help him lay down bunts and run down the line quicker than if he was standing in the right batter’s box.
He possesses more power from the right side of the plate. Jones has the ability to hit line drives to all parts of the field.
“My speed and athletic ability are my biggest strengths,” Jones said. “Even when I’m not hitting the ball, if I can get on base, I can make something happen.”
Jones played shortstop exclusively at UNCW last year. His speed and arm strength help him defensively, but he committed 25 errors during his freshman season.
In the summer, he was mostly at shortstop but also spent time in center field, as professional scouts prefer him at that position. Prior to the summer, he hadn’t played in the outfield since 10 years old, he estimated.
His skills translate well to center field, but Jones views himself as a shortstop long term, he said.
“Being cooped up at shortstop wasn’t that high of a priority on my list,” Jones said. “I just wanted to get the experience and scouts have been talking about what kind of player I could be in the outfield. I just wanted to give them a little taste of it.”
Jones has an aggressive approach at the plate. There are concerns about his plate discipline, as he struck out in about 33 percent of his at-bats between UNCW and the Cape Cod League last year. He’s focused on improving in that area this spring.
He also wants to refine his skills at shortstop, he said.
“I want to be more consistent in clutch situations,” Jones said. “Be the guy people go to and know I will get a hit or put something in play.”\
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.”