It’s invaluable for big league teams during the dog days of summer.
It’s also valuable in April when the weather can be more conducive to riding snowmobiles in Northern Michigan than it is for baseball in Detroit.
This April, the Tigers have received a huge infusion of energy from JaCoby Jones. The second-year outfielder is showing signs of taking the necessary steps required to become an everyday player in the major leagues.
Jones opened the 2017 season with a bang, slamming a three-run-homer off Jose Quintana on Opening Day in Chicago. Possessing a package of speed and power, Jones appeared to be poised to claim a big league spot just as the Tigers envisioned when they traded Joakim Soria to the Pirates at the trading deadline 2015 to obtain him.
The rest of April was unkind to Jones however and he found himself back in the minor leagues for a good portion of the 2017 season.
With the Tigers rebuild in full swing this season, Jones viewed 2018 as a new opportunity. He served notice in spring training that he was ready to stick in Detroit. Jones hit .354 and logged a robust .415 on-base percentage.
Cutting down his alarming strikeout rate of 2017, and becoming more accomplished at hitting the breaking ball were also skills that had to be refined before that opportunity would materialize.
This season, Jones has displayed progress in those areas. Particularly the mastery of the breaking ball. On the recent homestand, Jones smoked breaking balls for a sacrifice fly and a home run in two of his at-bats.
His manager has noticed a marked improvement in his approach.
“He’s learned to trust his hands,” Ron Gardenhire noted recently. “He’s letting the ball travel deeper and is slowing the game down.”
Jones agrees. “I’m not as jumpy and I’ve learned to relax,” he said.
Back to the energy aspect of his game. For the last handful of seasons, the Tigers have been a station-to-station team. Thumpers like Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez, and to a lesser extent Ian Kinsler, dotted the lineup. Not much opportunity to run existed. Jones though has infused the lineup with some flash. It has even been noticeable in the outfield.
He never really played much left field until this spring, but Jones has displayed an ability to adapt. With Leonys Martin manning center field, his opportunity has come in left field. The former shortstop has used his infield skills to cut off balls down the line, holding batters to a single instead of a double.
“I’ve been able to transfer my shortstop skills to the outfield,” he said. “My footwork has helped me cut some of those balls off.”
Would he still like to play shortstop at some point? “Sure, I’m game,” he said. “I can play anywhere on the field,” he said with a wry grin.
Confidence and flair are now a part of his game. Whether high-stepping into third base on a triple or hitting a dramatic walk-off homer against the Royals, Jones has featured a joy for the game.
“It was one of the best moments of my career,” Jones said of the walk-off homer. “The only thing that compares is getting my first big league hit with my family there.”
That happened in August of 2016 when he drilled a double down the right-field line against the White Sox Matt Albers.
The demotion of Mikie Mahtook earlier this season has given the athletic Jones the opportunity that he needed. To his credit, he has run with the chance both figuratively and literally.