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Jones lowers hands, raises potential

Adjustment in stance pays off for Yankees' No. 2 prospect
May 6, 2024

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – Spencer Jones spent a good chunk of his offseason working out with and talking to pitchers, particularly his fellow Vanderbilt alums in Nashville. One night, he chatted with good friend and former Commodores teammate Jack Leiter over dinner, and he got a little jealous. “He said, ‘Man,

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – Spencer Jones spent a good chunk of his offseason working out with and talking to pitchers, particularly his fellow Vanderbilt alums in Nashville. One night, he chatted with good friend and former Commodores teammate Jack Leiter over dinner, and he got a little jealous.

“He said, ‘Man, I feel really good. I made a lot of mechanical changes, and they’re great,’” Jones said. “He was talking about how he’s able to see [the effects] because when you have the ball in your hands, you’re able to manipulate things and control what your game is going to look like. But as a hitter, it’s difficult to know how those things are going to translate when you’re in the batter’s box against a breathing pitcher because we do a lot of machine work in the offseason.”

Leiter was making adjustments that would get him his Major League debut months later. At the same time, Jones was going through a stance change – specifically lowering his hands -- that he hoped would help him take off in his second full season. It didn’t take the Yankees’ No. 2 prospect long to get the feedback he craved.

Jones’ first swing in a Grapefruit League game resulted in a 470-foot homer on Feb. 24, the longest measured by Statcast this spring (tying one hit by the phenom Elly De La Cruz) and still the longest hit by anyone in a Yankee uniform in 2024.

“That one felt good,” Jones said. “I got it out in front, and the wind helped me a lot on that swing. But that was cool. My family was there. It was special for us.”

After New York drafted the outfielder in the first round in 2022, the left-handed slugger had begun his swing with his hands high in his stance, almost directly behind his head. It was an approach that worked for the most part. He hit .267/.336/.444 with 16 homers over 117 games between High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset in his first full season. His exit velocities were among the best in the New York system, regularly popping above triple digits – a product of Jones’ immense 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame and the strength that came from it.

But in part because of his size, Jones is always in search of simplicity, and a high-hand stance wasn’t quite fitting his definition of that standard.

“I got really tied up,” he said. “I felt like I couldn't get my hands through or really stay over the plate that well, and I’d get locked up on my backside. So it's just more about freeing up my rotation and allowing myself to move a lot freer in the batter's box. That's the ultimate goal as a hitter: to move free and to move well.”

MLB Pipeline’s No. 75 overall prospect worked with the father-son duo Mike and Logan Brumley both in Texas and up in Nashville to find a stance more suitable to his goals. The solution they landed on lowered his hands closer to his side. Now instead of making his first move to get his hands closer to the strike zone, he’s already there, ready to fire as the pitch comes in.

“In the past, they were up high, and that would just cause me to chop down on a lot of balls, be late and get beat by a lot of pitches, especially inside,” he said. “Lowering my hands just allowed me to create more freedom in my rotation. I'm not even thinking about my hands as much. I used to be a very handsy-thinking hitter. Now for me, it's just about ‘OK, let's put yourself in a good position to see the ball and then rotate your torso over home plate and hit it hard.’”

The results were evident early on in spring, beyond the mammoth blast. Jones didn’t swing and miss on a pitch until his 10th game of Spring Training, a stretch that lasted 78 total pitches. He returned to Double-A to begin 2024 but was delayed for over a week by a stiff neck. As his 2024 sample size with Somerset (74 plate appearances) nearly equals that of 2023 (78 PA) entering Sunday, the most notable statistical change has been his groundball rate dropping from 52.2 percent to 44.2, while his line-drive rate is up from 15.2 to 25.6. In other words, fewer playable wormburners, more lasers.

His fellow Yankees prospects have certainly taken notice of the change. Somerset teammates have compared Jones’ new stance to simple but powerful ones from Matt Olson and Corey Seager. It also calls to mind that of fellow New York slugger Anthony Rizzo.

“That's one thing I wish I did more so is pick his brain about different things because he does such a good job of driving the ball to all parts of the field and it's very simple from his setup,” Jones said of the first baseman. “He’s got a great swing. And if I could swing like him, that would be pretty nice.”

Jones already had a target on his back because of his Draft stock and elevated prospect status, and becoming more efficient in the box has only increased that in the Eastern League.

“The same thing happened with Jasson Domínguez,” said Somerset manager Raul Dominguez. “I can see [with] Spencer Jones, yeah he controls himself. It doesn’t matter how they attack you. Just stay with your plan. Just be simple.”

It’s all part of the process for Jones, who is still playing catch-up in some regards relative to a typical hitter from the college ranks. The 2020 pandemic-shortened season and Tommy John surgery that affected his 2021 campaign meant the slugger entered pro ball with only 421 plate appearances at Vandy. By comparison, Dylan Crews was drafted with 938 collegiate plate appearances last July, and Wyatt Langford, who wasn’t even a starter his freshman year, headed to the Draft with 610.

There’s more runway for Jones to make the proper adjustments and unlock the potential that could make him a star in the Bronx, and he intends to take every inch of it.

“It takes a certain number of at-bats for anybody to get ready or at least be the best version of themselves,” he said. “That’s the best part about baseball. Every day, you have a chance to learn something and feel something new.”

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.