This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Report on Daryl Jones
This week we will start a series of reports on overlooked prospects on the rise. Our first choice is Cardinals outfield prospect Daryl Jones.
St. Louis drafted Jones in the third round of the 2005 draft, out of high school in Spring, Texas. A football star in high school, he was an excellent wide receiver and had numerous Division I scholarship offers. But he preferred baseball, and his diamond talents earned him a coveted Rice scholarship. The Cardinals gave him a $450,000 bonus to pass up college baseball, hoping that his athleticism would translate into strong production in pro ball. The early returns were unimpressive: Jones struggled in rookie ball. He had poor seasons again in 2006 and 2007, but in 2008 he's been excellent, dominating the Florida State League and continuing to play extremely well after being promoted to Double-A in July.
TRADITIONAL SCOUTING REPORT
Jones is 5-11, 180 pounds a left-handed hitter and thrower. A tremendous athlete, he features plus speed as well as strong power potential. He was very raw when drafted, but unlike many raw tools players, Jones has developed the skills to make that athleticism meaningful between the lines. He's dramatically improved his plate discipline over the last two years, while refining his swing to translate his physical strength into productive power. He's also learned how to take pitches to the opposite field more often. Jones has the speed to be an excellent defender, though he's still refining his routes. His arm is below average in strength, his only weak tool. Compared to Kenny Lofton due to his speed when drafted, Jones could play more into a Ray Lankford-type, if the power development continues. His only significant physical problem has been a hamstring injury in 2006.
Jones struggled in rookie ball, and hit just .217/.304/.296 in 127 games for Quad Cities in the Midwest League in 2007. In 2008, the story has been much different: .326/.406/.476 with 18 steals in 307 at-bats for Class A Palm Beach, then .313/.432/.539 with five steals in 115 at-bats for Double-A Springfield. His walk rate is up this year, he's continued to hit well at the Double-A level, and has shown more pop. He has been devastating against right-handed pitchers for Springfield (.322/.443/.563), but has maintained strong (if less impressive) numbers against lefties at .286/.394/.464. The fact that Jones continued to hit well after being promoted to Double-A is an excellent sign, and at age 21 he is age-appropriate for the level.
FANTASY INVESTMENT VALUE
Jones has emerged as one of the more intriguing outfield prospects in the game. He should begin 2009 in Double-A, with a Triple-A promotion at mid-season if he continues to perform well. This would put him on pace to play for St. Louis late in 2009. Another minor league season to consolidate his progress is a good idea, but I think his improvement is for real and he should retain his performance gains. I'd rate him as a strong Grade B prospect right now.
Next week we will look at Rangers pitching prospect Derek Holland.
Article first appeared 9/3/08