"When they told me, I looked at the manager in Altoona and we literally just stared at each other for like five seconds, because I didn't know what to say," said Jones, an LSU product drafted by the Pirates in the third round of the 2013 Draft. "They obviously told me it was a great thing, being traded for a big league closer. It was a weird moment. I adjusted pretty well, I thought. It was a good feeling to know the Tigers wanted me that bad to get me one on one for Soria."
Jones spent 37 games with the Tigers' Double-A affiliate in Erie, having been promoted to the Eastern League by the Pirates and getting three games in with Altoona before the trade. Jones hit .250/.331/.463 with Erie, getting a strong sense of what the upper levels are like.
"The difference is, the arms have more command, they're more around the zone," Jones said, comparing the pitching he saw once up in Double-A to what he faced in the Florida State League earlier in the season. "They have great stuff day in and day out. I thought I adjusted really well. Coming out here, facing all these good arms, it's… fun to play out here."
"Here" is the Arizona Fall League, and Jones certainly was having fun over the first couple of weeks playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Jones was the co-player of the week for the AFL in the opening week and has hit .364/.417/.545 over his first 33 at-bats. That included a two-homer game followed by a four-hit performance in the opening week.
Jones, Detroit's No. 10 prospect, has long tantalized with his raw tools, possessing an intriguing power-speed combination. He hit 16 homers and stole 25 bases during the regular season. While his walk rate was up a slight tick from his first full season, he still struck out 165 times. Improving his approach, so he can tap into his raw power more and get on base more, is a focus in the Fall League.
"I'm still learning my swing, I'm still getting used to it," said Jones, a shortstop who is also learning to play third in the AFL. "I'm an aggressive hitter, I'm a free swinger.
"I like to get on base any way I can. I'm trying to work on my swing, get on base a lot more, trying to draw some more walks, obviously. I didn't have that many. When I get on base, I can use my speed, steal some bases, create some havoc on the basepaths."
Tigers hitters in the Fall League
• Dominic Ficociello, 1B - After a year that saw the 2013 12th-round pick reach Double-A and hit a combined .293/.349/.415 in the process, Ficociello is getting some more at-bats against advanced pitching. He's also moving around the field more, getting time at third and perhaps even in the outfield after playing first base only in 2015.
• Mike Gerber, OF - As a college hitter who was producing in the low-A Midwest League in 2015, it may have surprised some that Gerber spent all year at that level. His time in the AFL could help him jump on a faster track, especially since he got off to a .391/.444/.739 start over his first six Fall League games.
Tigers pitchers in the Fall League
• Jeff Ferrell, RHP - A shoulder issue forced Ferrell to the bullpen after being almost exclusively used as a starter since being drafted in 2010, and that may have been a blessing for the right-hander. Ferrell made his big league debut this year and finished third in the organization in saves despite missing a month of the season. He's getting more bullpen time in Arizona.
• Austin Kubitza, RHP - Kubitza struggled with the double-jump from the Midwest League up to Double-A in 2015, allowing 12.9 hits per nine innings. A groundball machine, he's mainly working on being more consistent with his delivery to be more effective in the strike zone.
• Adam Ravenelle, RHP - Thought to be the kind of college reliever who could impact the big league bullpen in a hurry, Ravenelle's first full season was cut short by illness and injury. He's making up for lost innings while working on fastball command and his secondary pitches.
• Montreal Robertson, RHP - A starter for the early stages of his career, Robertson moved to the bullpen full-time in 2014 and that has finally allowed him to get out of A ball. Like Ravenelle, he's getting more innings against advanced hitters and working on his fastball command.