Adam Jones started his professional baseball career as a first-round pick in the 2003 MLB Draft out of Morse High School in San Diego. He played 14 seasons in the majors, earning five All-Star nods, four Gold Gloves and the respect of everyone in the sport.
So, yeah, Jones was the absolute perfect person to be at Petco Park in San Diego last weekend talking to potential first-round picks in the upcoming 2022 MLB Draft, as both an instructor and guest analyst for MLB Network’s coverage.
“It’s like I told them, ‘You’re on this field right here and you want to play on this field, right?” Jones told Sporting News in a phone interview. “Well, there’s a few things you’re going to have to do to be able to play on this field.”
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The fact that the Combine was part of MLB Network’s coverage speaks to Major League Baseball’s long-overdue and much-needed emphasis on its draft and the lead-up to the draft. The NFL Combine has long been a tentpole event for the sport, but this was only the second MLB Combine ever. The first one was last year, held in Cary, NC, with roughly 150 prospects.
This one was at an MLB ballpark, with more than 250 draft prospects attending the four-day event. The players could choose to participate in skills and performance assessments, go through medical evaluations and, maybe most importantly, meet and interact with the front-office folks who just might draft them in mid-June. And it certainly didn’t hurt than baseball fans got a chance to meet some of these players through TV interviews on the MLB Network set and with the analyzes working the event.
“It’s the exposure,” Jones said.
Finally, MLB is starting to treat its draft like the major event it should be. Kudos. This combine wasn’t just about the potential first-round picks, though Top-10 prospects like Termarr Johnson – a high school second baseman from Atlanta – and Brooks Lee – a shortstop at Cal Poly – participated. The Orioles, by the way, own the first pick. For most of the players at the Combine, the goal was just to open eyes and bump their draft status up higher, whether that happened on the field or chatting with teams.
To get an inside perspective on this first-of-its-scale-for-MLB scouting combine, we asked Jones for his three biggest takeaways from the event.
1. The talent on display
Jones: “The level of talent with each generation just gets better and better. The size of these kids, the maturity of these kids, the hunger they have, but also the competitiveness and the appreciation for the game and for their peers. They’re pushing each other, although they’re in competition for a slot, for that money, they’re pushing each other. I see that and I think, ‘That’s what it’s about.’ At the end of the day, they’re going to be playing against each other, whether it’s in college or the pros.
“At this combine, the kids were showing their athleticism. Like I said on air, Buck (Showalter, Jones’ manager in Baltimore) always said if he could, he’d take 50 shortstops because they are the most athletic guy on the team. On a majority of teams, the shortstop is generally the most athletic person, him or the center fielder. You can make a shortstop an outfielder, a pitcher, or anything. These kids at the combine were so athletic. I don’t like how anybody would ever bundle.
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“There was one kid who had the highest exit velocity at the Combine, (Spencer) Jones from Vanderbilt, the 6-7 kid. He went to the outfield, said, ‘I want to play in the outfield. Yeah, I can play first base but I want to play the outfield so I can show my athleticism, too. ‘ That means he can play corner outfield, first base and DH. That’s four spots to hit, which is the most important thing. “
2. Awareness of the opportunity
Jones: “The understanding of where they were at the moment stood out. They knew the eyes were on them, they knew the world was watching them because it’s on TV, and you could see the personality. I think that, with the teams being there and it being a real combine, like the NFL combine, the teams get to see the personalities they’re about to invest a lot of money in, rather than trying to catch kids here and there. Now they get to sit down with the kids in street clothes, talk with them in a normal environment, and I think that’s enormous ..
“And they were intuitive. They asked me questions, like, ‘How was it in the minors?’ I told them the truth about it, like ‘You college kids, you’re about to get a downgrade. You’re going to go from that nice field to, well, you’re going to be questioning things. ‘ But that’s the hunger …
“I talked to as many players as I could that came through. I made myself available, went up to them. I tried to have some fun with them. You’ve got to. You’ve got to let them know, show your personality. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be shy. This is what teams are looking for, players they’re about to invest a lot of money in being a leader of their franchise, somebody’s who’s not going to be embarrassing but who’s going to be really cool and a great personality, a leader.
“I kept asking these kids, ‘Can you hit?’ There was one kid who said, ‘Damn, I didn’t run as fast as I wanted, but I don’t give a damn because I can hit.’ He walked by and I said, ‘Now that’s what the f— I want to hear!’ Because at the end of the day, hitting is the name of the game. ”
“This is the tip of the iceberg for these young men and their careers … they just need to soak it all in.”@ SimplyAJ10 and @alannarizzo discuss the 2nd-ever MLB Draft Combine and the mentality these prospects should use to help increase their draft stock. pic.twitter.com/Ggk6fX3mc2
– MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) June 16, 2022
3. MLB put on a great event
Jones: “The last thing I took away was MLB’s involvement. It was amazing. MLB did a fantastic job, them and the Padres. And obviously the Padres grounds crew, keeping the field in pristine condition, as they always do. But MLB understanding that, ‘Look, we need to advance our game, we need to have our game get more exposure and more media coverage and they did that. I think they executed that and it’s only going to get bigger. They went from 150 kids to 250 kids, it was well-run. The guy who ran it was Brian Graham, who used to be my farm director in Baltimore, a guy who is squeaky-clean, really knows what he’s doing.
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“I didn’t have a Combine event like this, but you can’t think about what’s not there. I didn’t care. We had tournaments, we had showcases. We had what we needed to show our talent, but it wasn’t to this magnitude. These guys were getting physicals, all the MRIs and metrics on their bodies you wouldn’t get otherwise until you sign. And they get to keep that data, too, which is great and beneficial to them, to know the metrics of their own body. ”