Jones growing in Reds’ system | Eveningstar


Hayden Jones wants to pick up where he left off.

The grandson of legendary DeKalb coach Bill Jones spent his first full season — a long one — in professional baseball this year.

After a successful season in the Low-A Florida State League, Jones was promoted to the High-A Dayton Dragons of the Midwest League at the end of the year.

The Cincinnati Reds, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State in 2021, then sent him to the fall instructional league in Arizona.

He’s hoping to start the season at Dayton next spring.

That’s the plan. I’d like to break camp with Dayton,” Jones said. “I ended there and got the promotion, and now I’d like to start there and get a promotion to Double-A. I want to keep going up the ladder.”

The son of Ken Jones, who was drafted by the San Diego Padres and later coached collegiately, Hayden Jones appeared in 72 games at Daytona, hitting .243 with nine home runs and 31 RBIs. He had 12 doubles and scored 31 runs.

He appeared in four games at Dayton and hit one home run.

In his first year as a pro behind the plate as catcher, Jones found he was there for baseball, and not much else.

“The biggest thing is you only get that one day every week,” he said. “You show up at the field at about one o’clock every day and you’re there until about 10 o’clock every night.

“That was a big difference compared to college, but I liked it because I’d rather be there than sitting at home. That’s the lifestyle I want to have. I felt I was in the right spot and handled myself just fine. I could just go play.”

Jones said he got occasional visits from his family or his fiancee, but his off day on Monday was mostly about rest.

“That Monday we get off, I would sleep in until about two,” he said. It burns you out if you’re not used to playing that many games. That’s what we signed up for and that’s what I’d rather be doing. I’d rather be on the field than inside.”

The move upward meant better pitching.

“It was actually pitching,” Jones said. In college, it was throwers. You might run into a guy who has some command, but not all the time.

“In Low-A, guys could throw 95-100 (mph) consistently. They didn’t always know where it was going. When I got to High-A, you knew they had a better idea of ​​where it was going. They had the velocity and they had a little better off-speed stuff.”

Jones had already caught many of the pitchers who were at Dayton when he was pitching, which made the adjustment easier.

“To catch those pitchers, you’re taking another step up,” he said. “You have to see each guy once or twice to see what their stuff looks like again and to get that feeling of trust.”

The Florida State League means the Sunshine State’s summer heat, and plenty of it. Jones said it was made worse by the turf field on which the Daytona Tortugas played their games.

“I don’t know whose idea it was to put turf for us to play on in Florida, but that was brutal,” Jones said. “It rained every day, but I’d take a rainout before burning on turf. We had four or five guys develop shin splints and we weren’t even halfway into the season.”

Players in the league were also guinea pigs for baseball’s new parlor tricks to try and increase fan interest. One was a 15-second pitch clock, which begins when the pitcher gets the ball back from the catcher. When the clock reads nine seconds, the hitter must be in the box looking at the pitcher.

It was way too quick. Guys need their mental break just to refocus,” Jones said. That wasn’t part of it. The reason they’re doing this is because fans are complaining. I say go watch (something else) if you don’t want to watch a long baseball game. Real baseball fans know it’s a long game.

It makes it harder for us. We’re not trained to play fast. We’re trained to take our time and take control of the game, not let the game take control of us. You get down to the end of the game and you’re dead.”

Players also had to deal with an automatic strike zone, with a couple of games each week called completely by a robot. When real umpires called the games, teams were given three challenges of a ball or strike call. The automatic system decided the matter.

“Sometimes it helps you when you’re on defense,” Jones said. “You can buddy up to the umpire and say ‘Hey, nine seconds,’ and it’s a strike. But then when it happens to you, it stinks.

Jones was fortunate enough to play for teams which drew big crowds. That wasn’t always the case in Florida, but games in the Midwest League always had fans at the stands, he said.

“It’s more enjoyable to play in front of fans. Your adrenaline gets going and it makes you play better. It makes the game more fun,” Jones said.

Jones said he’ll report in late February with the rest of the catchers in the Reds’ series, and spring training will begin soon after in March.

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