Connor Jones (Steve Manuel/State College Spikes)

St. Louis’ second-rounder, Connor Jones, did not disappoint in his professional debut.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues at #24 with a polished college right-hander and early 2016 draftee. Details for TCN members.

http://www.scout.com/player/177999-connor-jones?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NA RHS 10 10 94 2016 2nd

Selected 2016 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H ER HR BB SO AVG G/AO BABIP
SC 0 0 4.22 2.34 7 0 1 10.2 15 6 0 2 8 0.341 9.50 0.417
GCL 0 0 2.25 2.58 4 0 0 4 3 1 0 1 3 0.231   0.300
Tot 0 0 3.68   11 0 1 14.2 18 7 0 3 11 0.316 13.00  

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (29):  At #29, Connor Jones finished lower in the community voting than in the other rankings. 14NyquisT began voting for Jones early on, picking him at #19 before Jones received more substantial community support in the late 20’s.

14NyquisT backed up his Jones selection stating that Jones has a nice four-pitch mix and mound presence. With his relief experience at UVA, 14NyquisT believes Jones’ ETA will be sooner than most people are anticipating. CariocaCardinal countered though, saying that he has Gallen rated higher than he has Jones. He believes Jones’ inability to miss bats at lower levels and college haunts him. BobReed also has Gallen rated higher than Jones. He stated that Jones looks like a Maness or Bowman type of groundball-inducing reliever. During the vote, I mentioned that Jones was ranked #18 on Baseball America’s top 100 draft prospect list heading into the 2016 season. – Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (25): A once touted potential first-rounder in high school, Jones slipped to the 21st round after notifying teams he was going to honor his commitment to the University of Virginia for the 2013 draft.

In his three years on the Cavaliers pitching staff, Jones established himself as one of the top hurlers in Division 1 College Baseball, anchoring Virginia to a national championship while becoming one of the safest collegiate arms in this past summer's draft class.

In turn, the Cardinals grabbed the right-hander with their final pick on Day 1 of the amateur draft in the second round, No. 70 overall and eventually signed him to an over slot bonus of $1.1 million.

"We were thrilled to have Connor available to us in the second round," Cardinals Scouting Director Randy Flores said in a press release. "With what he has already accomplished, I think he will continue to thrive working alongside our talented pitching coaches."

For his junior season, Jones went 11-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 2016 for the Cavaliers. Though not normally a bat-misser -- 72 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings -- his ability to induce ground-ball outs early in counts with his sinker impressed St. Louis. He features a fastball that reaches 95-96 mph with two breaking pitches and a changeup.

Jones led the Atlantic Coast Conference in innings pitched, and as of result, the Cardinals held him to strictly relief work in his limited to pro action, as he compiled a 3.68 ERA over 11 games (14 2/3 innings) between the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and State College Spikes. He fanned 11 and walked three, but his groundball tendencies played to an impressive 13.00 GO/AO ratio.

“Connor Jones is a good sized young man,” Gulf Coast manager Steve Turco said. “Connor was 93-94, I believe he was able to touch 95 - might even had hit 96 for us with a heavy, heavy sinker and really good arm speed with feel for a changeup. His breaking pitch lagged a little bit, but what I remember about Connor was he wasn’t allowed to call his own games in school.

“We told him once he got here, it was going to completely change for him. Dakota Hudson called his own game as did Zac Gallen, but Connor was unable to. We gave him the freedom early on. It wasn’t going to be what it was in college as he is now a professional and he was going to have an accountability for what he did.

“He is another young man who is going to have a stellar career for us in this organization.”

Once Jones was promoted to the New York Penn-League on August 6, he caught the watchful eye of his pitching coach.

“What a great kid,” State College pitching coach Darwin Marrero said. “He has been pitching with a lot of limitation because he threw over 100 innings in college. We have taken it easy with him as he has pitched as a reliever. We spent a lot (of money) for him. Plus fastball with a heavy sinker. “Plus slider. Very athletic and coachable, hard-worker. Great makeup kid. He's a very professional guy in all aspects."

As far as his stuff, Jones commands his above-average sinker down in the zone and can reach back for mid-90s heat with his four-seam fastball. As mentioned, his 82-85 mph slider, which graded out as a plus offering in high school, is more of an above-average pitch now but has the potential to be a plus pitch again. He controls it well with its cut action and will also flash a rare 76-82 mph average curve as well as an 83-88 mph hard splitter an integral part of his arsenal combined with the slider.

In addition, Jones has an athletic and clean delivery, including Virginia's typical squat at the finish. The 22-year old draws positive reviews from scouts for his good makeup, impressive poise, and durability on the mound. He generates a tremendous amount of soft contact thanks to his know-how and plus command.

With more development of his breaking stuff, Jones could profile perfectly as a mid-rotation starter, slotting at a #3 rotation spot. The less optimistic scouts view him as a No. 4 or fifth starter at the big-league level.

All that said, it will be interesting to see how fast Jones moves up the system given the Cardinals selections of other D1 college aces Dakota Hudson and Zac Gallen. I could see the Cardinals jumping him to High-A Palm Beach to open 2017 with a more realistic destination of Low-A Peoria.

 

Brian Walton (19): What is not to like about Jones? Despite a triple-digit innings total pitched in college this past spring, he delivered. The recently-turned 22-year-old blew through the Gulf Coast League as hoped, then stepped up to an appropriate level of competition in the New York-Penn League and completed his debut professional season strongly.

Before you sour on his 4.22 for State College, note that his FIP was just 2.54 and his batting average on balls in play in the NYPL was an extremely unlucky .417. That will almost surely balance out next season.

When I think about Jones’ profile – an early round pick from a good college program who can bring it in the mid-90s, but despite the heat is known more than getting ground balls than strikeouts and with history relieving as well – I think of Joe Kelly. The current Red Sox sinkerballer is another back of the rotation-type starter who already has pitched in the majors for five years now.

Like Jones, a number of other Cardinals collegiate pitching draftees to have been on “The Wacha Plan” for their debuts were also promoted partway through their first season. In addition to Wacha (Palm Beach, Springfield), they include Marco Gonzales (Palm Beach), Mike Mayers (Peoria), Luke Weaver (Palm Beach) and Andrew Morales (Palm Beach). Of course, there was also Hudson (Palm Beach, Springfield) this past summer.

The next spring, Wacha, Mayers and Morales opened a level higher than they had finished their first season. Gonzales and Weaver stayed at the same level initially in year two, their first full season as Cardinals.

I don’t know whether to read anything into Jones’ initial assignment after leaving the GCL being lower in the system – State College. Looking ahead to 2017, he would almost certainly open in full-season ball. Moving up one level initially suggests Peoria.

Even if so, a more-typical aggressive promotion schedule could easily follow. Assuming Jones performs, I could see him pushing through Palm Beach and perhaps ending 2017 in Springfield. Based on what we know so far, a mid-rotation ceiling seems an appropriate projection.

TCN Scouting Grade: 6, Risk: High (click here to review scales)

Our 2017 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for being a member!

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