BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Cape Cod League can have a profound impact on college baseball players aspiring to have a professional career. For Tampa Bay Rays prospect Greg Jones, his success last summer with the Chatham Anglers put him on the path to be an eventual first-round selection in June’s MLB draft.
Jones learned how to tap into his athletic ability and experience the nuances of playing in the professional game, such as swinging a wood bat in a competitive setting.
“Honestly, the Cape Cod League gives you a chance to mature more physically,” Jones explains. “The main reason being that you are away from your family, which is something that you are going to be doing in pro ball. It gets you ready for the next level. I faced a lot of draft picks in the Cape last summer. It also got me ready for the off-speed pitches and the velocity I face from pitchers in pro ball.”
One of the causes for many players to flourish after spending time in the Cape is due to the type of competition they faced throughout the season. One of Jones’s teammates with Chatham was Spencer Torkelson, a young, prodigious first baseman for Arizona State.
Torkelson broke Barry Bonds’s Arizona State home run record as a freshman and is a potential first overall pick in 2020 MLB draft. He batted in the top half of the order for Chatham and displayed the ability to barrel up the ball in each at-bat.
“Torkelson is a great player. A great guy to be around,” Jones said. “You have fun playing with him in that lineup all summer. He has some of the most unbelievable pop I have ever seen from a player. One of the things that really stands out him is the pure swing that he has at the plate. Mainly he was a great guy to play with at Chatham.”
A draft-eligible sophomore, Jones was able to bolster his stock with a strong all-around season at UNC Wilmington. In 61 games, Jones batted .343/.491/.551 with 33 runs batted in and a 1.042 OPS.
He also led the CAA Conference in five offensive categories and tied the school’s stolen base record to earn the CAA Player of the Year award.
Though known for being a fixture in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, UNC Wilmington is building a reputable baseball program with Jones becoming the highest selection in school history.
“UNC Wilmington has a great coaching staff. For me, they gave (me) the chance to play there and made me the player that I am today,” Jones said. “I’m very thankful for that. They are making great strides in becoming a top-five baseball program in North Carolina. They have top draft picks who are pitchers and position players in the conference. You cannot count them out.”
Like with most of their first-round picks, the Rays invited Jones to Tropicana Field after the draft to meet with team brass and familiarize himself with the franchise culture.
Jones officially signed his first pro contract in the ballpark and watched Rays outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Austin Meadows take batting practice before a game against the Oakland Athletics.
The Tampa/St. Petersburg region is familiar with Jones. He attended games as a child at the New York Yankees spring training complex in Tampa and a few games in the dome when the team was still called the Devil Rays.
“Tropicana Field was unbelievable. It is a great facility,” Jones recalls. “I got to go down to the locker room and speak with some of the players at the major league level. I got to talk with (2018 AL Cy Young Award winner) Blake Snell and some of the other guys that are in the organization. They basically told me the same thing I heard from everybody else, which is to have fun. I’m at a great place in my life, and you just take the moments as they come. Going there gave me a goal to set for myself.”
Jones began his professional career in the New York-Penn League with Hudson Valley Renegades. He sports a .413 on-base percentage in his first 31 games with a .909 OPS and 13 stolen bases.
Jones is a crucial contributor for manager Blake Butera out of the leadoff spot to spark the Renegades. Butera, 27, is one of the youngest skippers in Minor League Baseball. Being close in age helps him relate more easily to his players, which enables Jones to thrive within the team dynamic.
“I think it’s incredible, honestly. Butera is a smart guy that knows a lot about the game,” Jones said. “Since he is young, he can show us what to do on the field instead of telling us what to do. You feel you can learn a lot from him. The coaching staff is great. We kind of just bond with a great group of guys and seeing how far we can go as a unit.”
Profiling with an athletic build, Jones displays some of the characteristics seen in a five-tool player. His speed on the base paths and quick jumps lead to stolen bases while putting pressure on opponents.
At the plate, he is a switch hitter whose swing produces consistent line drives with room to develop power. Some of his growth in the batter’s box stems from improved plate selectivity and a contact-oriented approach. Defensively, Jones has a strong arm in the hole and range up the middle but will look to improve his consistency at shortstop. The possibility also remains for Jones to play center field eventually because of his natural speed.
“I have definitely become a more aggressive hitter,” Jones explains. “The umpires are different here (in professional baseball), so if you don’t swing at that one hittable pitch, you will fall behind in the count. Earlier in the season, I wasn’t being aggressive enough on those pitches.”
According to many experts, the Tampa Bay Rays have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. Shortstop Wander Franco is the top prospect in the game according to Baseball America, while pitchers Matthew Liberatore and Brendan McKay sit atop the organizational pitching pipeline.
Being a perennial small-market franchise, the Rays rely heavily on their scouting and player development to sustain a competitive product. Their reputation for producing budding talent means they hold each player to a high standard where they can achieve their full potential.
“My focus (being in the Rays organization) is coming out on the field and knowing how to play the game the way I always try to do and letting the results happen,” Jones said. “I always try to hold myself to the highest standards whenever I play, since I know I can be a great baseball player. I feel like I can fit in wherever I go, and I’m just out here playing the game.”
Read a detailed MLB draft profile on Greg Jones here.