Vanderbilt Recruits Bond With Marlins

MIAMI—Center fielder Thomas Jones, a South Carolina native, and lefthander Braxton Garrett, who is from Alabama, didn’t know each other before last year.

But fate has brought them together.

Both 19-year-olds are talented and had accepted scholarships to play for Vanderbilt. But instead of heading to Nashville, they signed with the Marlins as 2016 draft picks.

Jones, a third-round pick who projects as a leadoff hitter, and Garrett, the seventh overall selection, were roommates last year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

“We’ve talked about how life would’ve been at Vandy,” Jones said. “But we’re both happy at how things worked out.”

The Marlins are equally pleased.

Garrett already ranks as the system’s top prospect, but Jones, who is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, has elite speed and developing pop.

Jones is a phenomenal athlete who had multiple scholarship offers to play football, including overtures from Notre Dame, Duke, Georgia Tech and others.

“He’s the best two-sport athlete I’ve ever coached in more than 20 years doing this,” said Dale Nelson, who guided Jones in baseball at Laurens (S.C.) High. “He was incredibly good.”

In football, Jones was recruited mostly as a safety, though he also played wide receiver and quarterback. Nelson said Jones was “like a different person” in football, and Jones agreed with that assessment.

“I turned into an animal,” Jones said. “Football is about attacking. Baseball is more about patience. It’s more mental.”

The challenge of baseball has always attracted Jones, who was the South Carolina high school player of the year in 2016, when he stole 17 bases while hitting .430 and slugging .716 with six home runs.

Nelson said Jones covers a ton of ground in center field because of his long strides and top-end speed. His arm, which was a weakness as a sophomore, has become a strength.

“I think Thomas is going to be a gap-to-gap power guy,” Nelson said. “He looks thin, but he’s muscular.”


Reliever Chris Reed, whom the Marlins acquired for Grant Dayton in 2015, retired in mid-February. The Dodgers selected the Stanford lefthander in the first round in 2011.

The Marlins signed lefthander Mike Kickham to a minor league deal. The 28-year-old has big league time with the Giants and finished last season as a starter in the independent American Association.

— Walter Villa is a reporter based in Miami

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