Hurricane Sandy Can’t Deter Connor Jones

JUPITER, Fla. — Hurricane Sandy clearly doesn’t have the scouting industry high on her priority list. The first day of the World Wood Bat Championship in Jupiter, Fla., was cut short when heavy rain delayed the first set of games and eventually washed out all games that were scheduled for 5:30 p.m. or later.

Despite the rain putting a damper on the day, scouts were able to get a look at some interesting arms right away. Righthander Connor Jones (Great Bridge HS, Chesapeake, Va.) started for the Evoshield Canes and worked all five innings as the game was shortened by the mercy rule. He only allowed three hits in the outing and struck out three while inducing eight groundouts.

“I felt really good,” Jones said. “It’s really easy to pitch in front of these guys. They seem to make every play that comes their way. I just try to play my game and let the other team put the ball on the ground.”

Getting ground balls is a big part of Jones’ approach because of his fastball. He doesn’t light up radar guns—he sat 88-91 mph today—but gets hitters to make weak contact because of the life on his fastball. A Virginia signee, Jones already has the bent-knee delivery that the Cavaliers have become known for, but he adopted it before making his college decision. At the Under Armour Game in August, Jones explained that he switched to the delivery at the urging of Jamie Evans, the pitching coach for the Canes and a member of the National Pitching Association. Before changing, Jones would start low then stand up straight on his back leg before dropping and driving toward the plate. He worked with Evans and the UVa style delivery allows Jones to stay low throughout.

Jones’ release point is at a three-quarter angle and he throws mostly two-seam fastballs that get excellent armside run and sink. The pitch produces a lot of groundouts, but can be a swing-and-miss fastball too because of how much it moves.

After the Under Armour Game, Jones took almost two months off to do a velocity program with Evans and worked on pitch location more. He returned to game action about a week ago in North Carolina. His secondary stuff is still a work in progress. His changeup has the makings of a good pitch with fade, but is curveball is slurvy right now.

“Another thing I tried to work on is consistency with the breaking ball,” Jones said. “I didn’t get to throw my changeup much this summer, but I’ve really gained confidence in it this fall.”

Jones stifled the Mets Scout Team/St. Louis Pirates offense, but his opposition on the mound flashed excellent stuff. Devin Williams, a righthander from Hazelwood (Mo.) West High started and pitched two innings. He allowed three runs on three hits and two walks, but the damage came in his second inning of work, which was after the rain delay. His one strikeout came on an 82 mph changeup against the first batter he faced. He sat 91-93 with his fastball and settled in at 89-91 after the rain. His slider was inconsistent, but flashed sharp bite in the low 80s. His changeup looked ahead of the slider right now, sitting in the low 80s as well with sharp fade. Williams is listed at 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, but is more like 6-1 or 6-2 with long legs and a wiry frame.

Before games started, teams were hitting in the cages with a smattering of scouts standing around watching. A.J. Puk, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound lefthander from Washington High in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has received plenty of attention on the mound because of raw arsenal and projection, but there were whispers during his batting practice session that he could get some serious looks as lefthand-hitting first baseman. Scouts also paid particular attention when Marucci Elite outfielder Justin Williams (Terrebonne HS, Houma, La.) stepped in. A couple scouts were discussing how he compared to former Angels outfielder Garret Anderson, adding that Williams is more physical than Anderson was at a similar stage.