By: Will Burchfield
In a surprise move, the Tigers have purchased the contract of highly-touted prospect JaCoby Jones from Triple-A Toledo. The 24-year old will make his MLB debut Tuesday night against the White Sox, playing third base and batting eighth.
“I got here today and they said I’m in the lineup at third base,” Jones said prior to the game. “I’m pumped for it so let’s get after it.”
Jones’ big-league debut feels like a much-anticipated event. He has garnered plenty of hype since being acquired from Joakim Soria at last season’s trade deadline, often being praised as a five-tool prospect. Jones says his most formidable asset is his speed, which certainly held true when we watched him play in Toledo in June.
In 99 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season, Jones was hitting .257 with a .733 OPS. He was called up to the Mud Hens in early June, where he posted a .243 average and a .665 OPS in 79 games; he also had three homers, 23 RBI and 11 stolen bases.
While those numbers don’t exactly stand out, Jones arrives in Detroit on a hot streak, hitting .340 with a .858 OPS in his last 13 games.
“Lately it’s been real good, feels good in the box. I feel comfortable so it’s good to get the call-up here. Maybe I can continue to keep swinging it well to help the Tigers win some games and produce some runs,” Jones said.
In the field, Jones has uncommon versatility. He was drafted out of high school as a shortstop but has played mostly center field and third base since joining the Tigers’ organization last July. They’re hardly complimentary positions, but Jones has shown the athleticism to excel at both.
With the Mud Hens, he made 57 starts in center and 18 at third.
“They’re both challenging at the same time,” Jones said. “I mean third base is the hot corner over there so you just gotta be ready every time, and center field you just use your speed pretty much, get some good reads on the ball.”
He conceded he feels more comfortable in center, but is gaining confidence at third base every day.
Jones stands to help the Tigers at either position. Third baseman Nick Castellanos (broken hand) is out until at least the middle of September, while center fielder Cameron Maybin re-aggravated his thumb injury last night and remains day-to-day.
The Tigers are still awaiting a prognosis on Maybin’s MRI and Brad Ausmus said the decision to promote Jones wasn’t necessarily related to Maybin’s availability moving forward. Rather, they were trying to inject some energy into a stagnant offense and make an upgrade at third base.
The Tigers have scored just ten runs in their past four games, during which time McGehee, starting at third, went 2-14. In 21 games as Castellanos’ fill-in, McGehee hit .235 with 1 RBI.
“He played a tremendous third base,” Ausmus said of McGehee. “We just felt we needed a little more offense and we hope we can get that from Jones.
It has been a tumultuous last 13 months for Jones. He was traded to the Tigers in July of 2015 and then suspended for 50 games in November for his second violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. (He tested positive for a “drug of abuse,” i.e. not P.E.Ds.) Now he finds himself in the big leagues, ready to realize a childhood dream.
“It’s been a long 13 months, but it’s all good,” he said. “I’m here now so I’m ready to go.”
To make room for Jones on the roster, the Tigers optioned third baseman Casey McGehee to Toledo. They also sent down Matt Boyd and recalled lefty reliever Blaine Hardy. It is likely that both McGehee and Boyd will be back with the Tigers once rosters expand on August 1.
Note: By virtue of joining the 25-man roster before September 1, it bears mention that Jones is eligible for the postseason roster as well.