Why the Yankees Refuse to Part Ways with Prospect Spencer Jones: Unleashing a Baseball Monster

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s rare when Nick Swisher isn’t buzzing with energy. Roam the hallways or the back fields at the New York Yankees’ spring training complex and, often, you’ll hear him well before you see him.

At 43 years old, he’s part-former outfielder, part-special adviser and full-time hype man. But even for Swisher, the excitement was different when he first laid eyes on Spencer Jones.

Shortly after the Yankees drafted Jones with the 25th overall pick out of Vanderbilt University in 2022, the tall, wiry slugger took batting practice at the club’s player development complex.

Swisher stood off to the side as Jones ripped line drives all over the field. Then with seemingly little effort, Jones crushed a home run well over the wall in left-center field — an unusual feat for someone hitting from the left side. Swisher’s eyes widened.

“Bro,” Swisher said, “he hit that one like he was a righty pull hitter.”

Since then, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Jones has continually impressed the Yankees, who have come to believe that he could follow a path most recently forged by Aaron Judge. That conviction has become so strong the Yankees have rejected repeated attempts from opposing clubs wanting to trade for him.

Even with their seemingly thin rotation, the Yankees deflected attempts from the Chicago White Sox to acquire him in exchange for starting pitcher Dylan Cease, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s personnel decisions. They also didn’t want to deal him to the Milwaukee Brewers in talks for starter Corbin Burnes, the sources said. The Brewers eventually traded Burnes to the Baltimore Orioles.

“He gets asked a lot about,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “So I know our evaluations of him are shared similarly throughout the industry because of how his name comes up.”

Jones, an avid cook who’s finishing his bachelor’s in communication studies, said he did his best this offseason to avoid trade rumors. He said that his primary goal of the winter was to get stronger, and if his Statcast-estimated 470-foot home run against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday was any indication, he’s not lacking muscle.

This spring, Jones said he’s already spent time picking the brain of Judge, as well as Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu and other big leaguers who showed up for early workouts.

“It’s just great to be in here and experience this,” he said, sitting at his locker.

Jones, who is expected to start the season at Double-A Somerset, was ranked the Yankees’ No. 4 overall prospect by The Athletic’s Keith Law in his preseason top-20 list. Law didn’t include Jones in his top 100 prospects in the minors, but included him among his “Just Missed.”

An opposing talent evaluator polled by The Athletic said he believed the Yankees are right to be high on Jones. The scout said Jones looked “very, very good” at High-A Hudson Valley, where he hit .267 with 16 home runs, 66 RBIs and a .780 OPS in 117 games. The scout added that Jones was a “twitchier” athlete than Judge, and that “at that size with that power, it’s enticing.” Jones finished the season at Double-A Somerset, hitting .261 with three homers, 10 RBIs and a .739 OPS in 17 games.

Jones is also considered a strong defender, potentially capable of handling center field in the majors someday, though Law wrote he could imagine him playing “above-average defense” in right field. His 43 steals last season also point to Jones being a future threat on the bases.

“He’s an absolute monster,” Swisher said.

Vice President of Baseball Operations Tim Naehring said that Jones’ pure hitting ability was what initially stood out to him the most. Naehring described Jones as a “handsy” hitter capable of using the entire field.

“I’m an old-school type guy,” Naehring said. “I have no problem teaching a guy to pull a baseball. You show me a guy that can go (the opposite) way, there’s a higher ceiling. But if you have a guy who does everything from the pull side and you try to teach him the other way, it’s a little tougher of a task.”

Still, there are areas of focus for Jones. His 28.8 percent strikeout rate (537 plate appearances, 155 strikeouts) last season was a concern. The Yankees would also like to see him lower his ground-ball rate (52.2 percent in Double A).

Naehring preached patience for Jones, citing two examples of what he called “longer-levered” players who became stars. Naehring pointed out how it took the 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson until age 26 to dominate. Judge didn’t break out in the majors until he was 25.

“History tells us that larger athletes take a little bit longer to develop,” Naehring said.

A September promotion to the majors for Jones this season would be aggressive, but it can’t be ruled out. Last year, fellow top prospects Jasson Domínguez, Austin Wells and Everson Pereira started in Double A and finished in the Bronx. With Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo heading into free agency after this season, the team’s future outfield is far from settled. The Yankees may see Jones as part of the mix for years to come.

“This business is all about projecting people,” Yankees special assignment scout Jim Hendry said. “Not what they are today, but what they’re going to be. (Jones) fits that bill of having a chance to be really, really, really good.”

Swisher said he believes that for Jones, it’s all about playing more. He played only one full season in college, in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and because he underwent Tommy John surgery the same year.

“He’s still learning a little bit about who he is as a ballplayer, what kind of ballplayer he wants to be, how good he wants to be,” Swisher said.

“The bones of the house are there and to be able to watch him grow — he’s come back more mature, more physical. When you’re looking at that, I’m like, ‘Oh, my, you’re looking at a defensive end.’ Man, he’s got the tools. He’s got it upstairs.”

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