Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Getting to Know Astros/Hooks 1B Taylor Jones

When I caught up to Hooks 1B Taylor Jones recently, the first thing I did was apologize to him. After hitting a less than robust .222/.314/.321 in 105 games in 2017 (between Low A Quad Cities and High A Buies Creek), I didn't consider Jones to be one of the more interesting first basemen in the system to watch. He is working diligently to make me regret that oversight! In his first 26 games in 2018, Jones is hitting .370/.468/.652 and is catching the attention of more people than just me.

Taylor Jones - April 2018
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The first question I asked Jones had to do with this change in his results at the plate. He told me, "I'm figuring out how to get on plane and that's been the key to my swing. It started when I got drafted and I struggled with it, had a rough time trying to adjust to it but I think I'm starting to get it down and I think it's starting to translate on the field. It's been a tough road a little bit just because where my swing was at when I got drafted compared to what it is now, it's a lot different. There were some growing pains I had to get through. We kind of saw that last season, but I'm off to a good start now so hopefully can just maintain that."

One of the biggest changes has been his power output. Jones was a fairly thin 6'7" when he was first drafted in the 19th round in 2016 out of Gonzaga, but he is starting to fill out that frame nicely, adding strength to his upper half to go with an already strong lower half. But Jones doesn't really think about his power upside in terms of numbers. "All I'm worried about now is hitting the ball hard and getting that swing on plane and the rest will take care of itself. So far that seems like the case. As far as how many home runs I'm going to put up and power numbers, I'm not so worried about that. I'm just going to do what I'm going to do at the plate and let it speak for itself," said Jones.

Knowing that strikeouts often come with increased power, Jones said, "You want to be a tough out. You don't want to be a guy who gets out there who swings as hard as he can to try to hit it really far but then misses a lot. I know that's a little bit where the game's going as far as getting your money's worth with each swing, but I also want to be a good hitter too. I want to make good contact a lot of the time, but I want it to be good swings and hitting the ball hard." So far, so good for Jones as he is walking more and striking out at a lower rate than was the case in 2017.

In characterizing himself defensively, Jones said, "I'm just a guy that tries to go out there and do a good job defensively. I try to pick the ball when maybe an infielder short hops, try to be athletic around the bag if it's thrown wild, make sure I'm fielding ground balls correctly. I'm not very quick. That's the one thing I'm lacking, but as far as being able to move well enough and have good enough hands to catch the ball, I do that."

I think Jones may be selling himself short on the defensive side. Fellow Hooks teammate Alex De Goti had great things to say about him as well as his Gonzaga teammate (and somewhat new Astro) RHP Brandon Bailey who called Jones "one of the best defensive first basemen I have ever had the pleasure of playing with." Jones is surprisingly agile and can pick a potential line drive high above the first base line out of thin air with ease, something I personally observed the very tall first baseman accomplish.

Jones wants to build on his early success at the plate and that is his current focus. "Right now it's just making sure that I'm swinging at good pitches. I think that I'm starting to take care of, like I said, getting my swing on plane and the mechanics of my swing down for the most part. If I can combine that with swinging at my pitch, taking advantage of good pitches over the plate and not chasing those pitches that are the pitcher's pitch that I'm not going to be able to do much with, I think that's when I'll really start to separate myself and do what I'm capable of at the plate. There's a million things when it comes to my game that I could be improving, but that's one thing right now that I'm focusing on the most. Of course, on the basepaths, I want to be better. Even though I'm not a fast guy, I can be smart on the basepaths. Defensively, keep doing that. There's all sorts of stuff that I am working on right now, (but) I would say the pitch decision, that's my main issue."

I also spoke with Hooks Manager Omar Lopez regarding Jones's early success. Upon hearing his name, Lopez's immediate response was, "Woooooo! Jonesy! I wish it was August already." His hope for Jones is that he can continue his success throughout the season and he seems to think that Jones's daily approach can help him maintain a level of success. Lopez said, "The whole thing is his approach. He worked extremely hard, I think, in the offseason because when I saw him for the first time in Spring Training and every single day until today, he's been the same and surprised me. Surprised me (by) how good he's doing, his approach at the plate ... he needs to stick with that. If he continues throughout the season with that, he's opened a lot of eyes. If he's able to do whatever he's doing right now, maintenance work in every area, he's turning into an interesting player for our organization."

Lopez continued in his praise of Jones, "Jonesy's personality is extremely coachable. He's going to listen, but he's not going to listen just to please you. He's going to listen. He's going to take the good things, take them with him (as he works on) his approach or his overall baseball skills. He's not afraid to give you feedback (if something's not working). He's not afraid to very professionally talk to you and we'll find another way to make him get better. But right now, I don't see much, just little things and the most important thing with him is to stay consistent with his approach throughout the season.  (He's) an interesting guy that we would like to develop, and with hard work and discipline, he (can) make himself into a good player and put himself in a position to open a lot of eyes and make a lot of noise in this game."

In trying to learn more about Jones on a personal level, I found out that he is a documentary junkie. "I'm not a huge reader, but I love documentaries. I learn a lot from documentaries. I'm a big Netflix guy when it comes to documentaries, even just like mini-series documentaries. I just feel there's a lot you can learn. I love listening to people's stories. I love hearing stories from different perspectives, about people that maybe I would never walk across in life. But they have an awesome story and something about their story, even as different as they are, I can probably connect to in some way," said Jones.

That inquisitive nature seems to spill over into the game of baseball as he enjoys learning from observation. When he's on the bench, Jones likes to sit back and watch all of his teammates, both enjoying their performances and learning from what they do well, "That's the one thing that's awesome about our team. We've got a bunch of guys that can play. And each guy has something different about him that is exciting to watch. I don't think there's one guy, the whole game, I'll just keep my eyes on. On defense, I'm looking at one guy. On offense, I'm watching one guy. On the basepaths, I'm looking at another. I think we have so many guys that bring so many key aspects to this game, it's hard not to bounce around from guy to guy during the game."

My first impression of Jones when I met him in Tri-City in 2016 was that he was very open and approachable, just an all-around nice guy. Nothing from our recent conversation changed that impression, but you can add humble, hard-working and smart to that list of qualities. He is a player that fans are going to be rooting for as he works to get the most out of his abilities. And he is a player who I will not make the mistake of overlooking again.

Thank you for your time, Taylor, and best of luck as your season continues to unfold.

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