While he is 26 and a former 19th round pick, Taylor Jones could be the next hidden gem to come from the Houston Astros’ farm system.
If the Houston Astros want to continue winning at a high level, they will need some prospects to take big leaps. While no longer rated among the best in baseball, the Astros’ farm system still has plenty of talented players who could make an impact in the majors soon. Many fans are pining for the eventual callups of players such as Forrest Whitley, Korey Lee and Chas McCormick. However, the next major Astros prospect development could come from a more unlikely prospect: 1B/LF Taylor Jones.
A 19th round pick from 2016, Taylor Jones stands 6’7″, 230 pounds and oozes power and potential. Jones was an all-WCC player college pitcher/hitter at Gonzaga and hit .332 his junior year for the Zags. Before that, Jones was a great two-sport athlete for Kentwood High School where he starred on a basketball team that won 4A Washington Basketball State title (not too shabby for his secondary sport).
What excites me about Taylor Jones is his progress and development in the minor leagues. In 2018, Jones hit .314 with 13 home runs and a .936 OPS in Double-A. By August of that year, he earned himself a call up to then-Triple-A Affiliate Fresno – where he naturally struggled. In that short two-month stint, Jones hit only .210 with five home runs, .672 OPS and an unwelcome abundance of strikeouts. Scouts in 2018 remained optimistic about his power but noted that his swing balance at the plate was inconsistent and was getting exposed.
That offseason, Jones worked diligently with Astros development to make those plate improvements, and it paid off in 2019. Jones hit .295 BA with 22 home runs, 84 RBIs and an .899 OPS for Triple-A Round Rock. He did the natural progression you’d want to see from a rising prospect – he mashed, he struggled, he adjusted, he mashed again.
I personally saw this growth live at the ballpark (remember going to games? ) Last year, I went to a few Round Rock Express games in Las Vegas to see future stars, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. Those two players obviously stuck out and they looked like they belonged in the majors right away, but I must admit: Taylor Jones had the same feel. He was balanced at the plate, imposing with his swings, and slammed the ball all over the ballpark. I watched Jones hit a towering homer against A’s then-prospect AJ Puk that I thought was going to break the right field scoreboard. It might have been the hardest hit ball I’ve ever seen live.
Jones was so impressive in 2019 and in 2020 spring training, he earned his Major League call up back in July. If you look at surface level stats, Jones didn’t exactly wow with 21 at bats with the Astros this year (.190 BA, 7Ks), but what I saw was good foundations of an everyday major league hitter. He showed solid plate discipline by drawing multiple full-counts and saw 97 pitches in his 21 at bats. While he only had four hits, his spray rate was balanced, and he generated impressive hard-hit balls that ended being unlucky outs. And the home run he hit off Zach Davies, someone who doesn’t give up too many bombs, was mammoth.
It’s hard to imagine a 19th round pick who is already 26 to be the next Astros prospect to make a jump, but Jones has serious athleticism along with natural power and above-average plate discipline that makes me think this late bloomer could be a gem for the Astros. I certainly don’t expect him to be an All-Star, but with development and power makes me think he could be Aaron Judge-lite.
With Yuli Gurriel only signed for another year, Jones could learn first base behind him while getting 150+ ABs as a bench guy for the Astros in 2021. If he continues his current trend of progression, manager Dusty Baker might have to make him a starter sooner rather than later.