Cornell Righthander Jones Mixes Brains And Brawn

Hard-throwing junior righthander Brent Jones has a chance to be the highest-drafted Ivy League pitcher in more than a decade and the highest-drafted player ever from Cornell.

Despite a rough outing last weekend, Jones has shown well in the early phases of the season, holding 93-96 mph velocity over extended innings in the rotation and touching 97.

Brent Jones

Brent Jones (Photo by Diamond Images)

Jones went undrafted out of a New Mexico high school and has gained considerable weight to his 6-foot-3 frame since reaching campus.

“He walked by me at practice and said, ‘Coach, I just hit 220 pounds’ and I said ‘do you remember when we talked your freshman year when you were 185 pounds? I told you that with your frame you had a chance to get to 220 pounds and become a pretty good draft pick,’ ” Cornell coach Bill Walkenbach said.

Jones was an immediate weekend starter as a freshman, making nine starts and touching 93 mph. His velocity began to increase when he was moved to the bullpen at the end of his sophomore season, after which he had a strong summer in the Coastal Plains League.

The righthander grabbed scouts attention at his scout day this past fall.

“On scout day he was 93-95 and he didn't throw anything below 92,” a National League scout said. “That is very rare. Usually a guy will pop 95 and then it will come down to 91. But he sat 93-95.”

Jones is a power pitcher who relies primarily on his four-seam fastball and a pair of breaking balls. His 79-83 mph curveball shows the makings of at least an average pitch, flashing above-average.

“The breaking ball is a hammer at times,” the scout said. “It is a spike curveball and when he lands it, the pitch is pretty good.”

His third offering is a high-80s cutter/slider that has evolved over the last few years.

“He had a really good slider his freshman year but it has evolved into more of a cutter as he has been using the curveball more and more,” Cornell pitching coach Scott Marsh said. “It doesn't have the same depth it did his freshman year but it does have some lateral movement.”

The offering is not presently an average pitch but will likely improve given his hand speed.

“It is between a cutter and a slider and it is not there now but it definitely has room to improve,” the scout said.

His mid-80s split-finger changeup has not gotten much use and is a below-average offering.

“It has improved greatly over the last year and he has more confidence in the pitch because he is starting to work it more into game action,” Marsh said. “As we get deeper into the season he is going to mix them in more.”

As a college hurler with mid-90s velocity and the makings of a curveball that could be above-average, Jones has the stuff to go in at least the top five rounds. Continued development of his strike-throwing ability and changeup could push him higher.

Jones’ delivery features some effort with a head snap and rigidity to his front side featuring a stiff front leg.

“We are trying to get him more athletic and more balanced and dynamic as he comes down the hill,” Marsh said. “Sometimes when he does stiffen his front leg, he starts spinning off of it and pulling off to the side.”

In the first two seasons of his career, Jones walked 3.8 per-nine while striking out 7.0. He showed improved control to start the season, with three walks in his first 12 innings and two starts before a rough outing against James Madison on Saturday.

“It is going to come down to his ability to throw strikes and keep the ball down in the zone,” the scout said. “If he can do that, then he can probably be a starter as a pro. But if that doesn't work he could have a bright future in the bullpen, where he could face three to six hitters an outing and let it rip.”

Most of the pro prospects produced by the Ivy League have been pitchers, as nine of the 12 Ivy Leaguers drafted in the top five rounds since 1986 have been hurlers, as well as nearly 60 percent of the players drafted in the top 10 rounds. Jones compares favorably with the pitchers of recent memory.

“He stacks up there with (Princeton 2004 third-rounder) Ross Ohlendorf and (Princeton 2000 third-rounder) Chris Young and he could be better than those guys. He has better stuff than Kyle Hendricks, who went in the seventh round out of Dartmouth and has ended up being a good pro. He has a chance to go pretty good.”

The highest-drafted Cornell player since the draft moved a single phase is 2003 seven-rounder Chris Schutt.