What will the Astros do with first baseman Taylor Jones, following a back injury to start the season?
Some of the Opening Day mystery was taken away from the Houston Astros on Friday morning, when it was announced Taylor Jones dealing with a back injury, indicating he’s likely out of the running to make that opening night roster in Los Angeles.
This is the latest in setbacks for the development of the fascinating 6-foot 7 prospect. The former two-sport star athlete from Washington joined the Astros’ organization in 2016 and has done well in the minor league ranks, crushing the ball in both Double-A and Triple-A.
In 2020 and 2021, Jones got his first taste of big league play, earning 128 at-bats for the Astros in spot starts. In those at-bats, the hit .245 with a .670 OPS — not bad, but you wouldn’t say he has necessarily flourished in his opportunity.
Why would this recent back injury be a setback? Rewind the clock to two years ago.
Yuli Gurriel hit .089 in the 2020 postseason and looked done at age 36. He couldn’t move and seemed to had lost his swing for good. Jones appeared next in line to take over first base duties, but he needed more reps.
I was one that thought with more consistent opportunity, while Jones would flourish into a solid starter-level player with some serious potential upside of being a tall, lanky power-hitter.
Fast forward to today, and not a lot of progress has happened. Gurriel came back in 2021 with a vengeance and mashed the ball, hitting .331 and winning the American League batting title.
Gurriel continued this trend into spring training, coming in 20 pounds lighter and currently slashing to a 1.200 OPS in the Grapefruit League. Gurriel may be entering his second prime as an elite hitter in that ripe, young age of 38, and I’m all for it.
However, this puts Jones in an awkward spot, and what are his next steps? He’s a solid hitter with good patience and plus-size pop, especially against southpaws with a .324 BA and a 145 OPS+ against lefties.
But, he’s nowhere near the Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Yuli Gurriel or Michael Brantley level of production. Jones is a versatile player that can play in the outfield and the infield, but the Astros are now loaded with depth in the outfield, Gurriel is extremely durable at first base and Niko Goodrum and Aledmys Diaz are both more-proven options in the infield.
Obviously news of his back injury is not going to help things, as Jones will likely spend time rehabbing and playing in Triple-A for at the very least the first month of the season.
So, what should the Astros do with Jones? Here are a few options.