Greg’s journey: ‘Only sport I ever played in my whole life’
Rays prospect, Biscuits shortstop Greg Jones fueled by passion for baseball
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Montgomery Biscuits recently finished a series against the Mississippi Braves this week and with the team from Pearl in town, mostly all eyes were on Michael Harris II, the No. 1 prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization, and rightfully so.
But on the same field with Harris II at times, a guy from his same draft class, and drafted two rounds earlier in Montgomery Biscuits shortstop Greg Jones. Jones touts notable star power of his own - he’s listed by MLB as the No. 5 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and baseball is almost quite literally his life.
“Only sport I ever played in my whole life,” said Jones. “Started playing baseball when I was five and that’s all I ever really wanted to do at that point. It’s like, ‘I wanna be a professional baseball player.’ So, I just stuck to the goal.”
Jones was a standout growing up in Cary, North Carolina. From chasing butterflies in the outfield at an early age to locking down his position around the age of 10 or 11 years old. It’s around that time that Jones says he began working with one of his major baseball influences, Clay Counsell.
“Me and Clay go way back. We started hitting together probably about 10, 11 years old and he was the first person to ever introduce me into...taking videos of my swing, and going back and watching them and showing me how it’s supposed to look and what I’m supposed to do,” he said.
By the time Jones got to high school, he said he felt things shift for him as a sophomore in high school.
“I had a really good season. I batted like .460 - which I mean it’s high school...I know it’s high school but that just gave a high school baseball player that thought of, ‘Yo, I can play at a high level,’” said Jones.
It’s also around 10th grade that Jones undertook the incredibly tough task of switch hitting. A natural right-handed player, Jones joked he only jumped on the other side of the plate to make his speed even more of an advantage.
“Obviously it worked for a little bit, but you can’t just get up there and only bunt on the left side. They’ll know it every time, so [I thought], ‘Maybe I should start swinging it a little bit’ and just rolled with it, stayed with it all through high school,” said Jones.
Jones knew his switch-hitting could become a valuable asset for him if conquered. He did, and as he conquered that mountain, another lay before him - the decision to either pursue professional or college ball. Jones was drafted out of high school by the Baltimore Orioles in the 17th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, but the decision to turn pro just didn’t feel right to him.
“I felt like I wasn’t ready mentally or physically for professional baseball, so took my talents to college,” he said.
The speedy shortstop would go on to attend the University of North Carolina Wilmington where he scorched the college ranks for two seasons. In two years, Jones hit for a .309 average - jumping from .279 his freshman year up to .341 his sophomore campaign. He also collected 139 hits, 11 of which were triples. His speed, Jones’s biggest asset, helped him swipe 58 bags, including 42 his final year at UNCW.
He would garner accolades such as the Colonial Athletic Association’s Player of the Year in 2019, several first-team honors in 2019 as well a few All-American nods. But the thing Jones remembers most from his time at UNCW, is the impact his head coach Mark Scalf made on him.
“Had a lot of childish in me when I got to college and there’s no place really in baseball...to be a child. You got to be a good teammate at the end of the day and coach Scalf got that out of me real quick,” said Jones. “I feel like he molded me as a human being, as a man today.”
After the 2019 season, Jones entered the 2019 MLB Draft where he was selected 22nd overall by the Tampa Bay Rays. In three calendar years, Jones turned himself into a first-round draft pick, officially completing his childhood dream of becoming a professional baseball player.
In his first season as a professional, Jones hit for a .335 average and stole 19 bases in Short-A ball. With no minor league season in 2020 due to COVID, Jones began last season in High-A, hitting .291 with 13 homers and 27 stolen bases in just 56 games. His play earned him a call up to Double-A Montgomery the last bit of the season.
His passion for the game shines through his play.
“It’s just something you’ve worked for so hard your whole life and you have it right here in front of you, so why not give it your best shot?” he said.
While he struggled in Montgomery towards the end of last year, and the beginning of this year, Jones seems to be figuring it out as of late. After starting 2-for-25 this year, Jones has ripped off a string of 13 hits in his last 44 at-bats, hitting at a .295 clip. His change was simple.
“Just keeping my head still and quit drifting early in the count. Drifting, like falling into my front side, staying back and keeping my head still,” he said. “It allowed me to see the ball a lot better and I can attack from there. That’s why I started attacking pitches earlier in the count cause I’m seeing them better.”
With the better average in that stretch also came the power. In that stretch of games, Jones slugged four doubles and two homers. Through it all, Jones is able to keep a positive attitude because of his teammates and knowing what all he still has left to accomplish.
“It honestly helps when you have good teammates around you. Guys you can talk to, and talk you through it,” he said. “People invested a lot of time and the money into this and I’m just not gonna throw it away.”
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