Tigers' No. 9 prospect leads Salt River to 9-4 win thanks to first-inning blast
By Mike Rosenbaum
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Fresh off of his first taste of the Major Leagues, JaCoby Jones is playing like a big leaguer in this year's Arizona Fall League.
The Tigers' No. 9 prospect came out of the gate swinging on Saturday afternoon as he connected on a first-inning home run to help power Salt River in a 9-4 win over Glendale at Camelback Ranch.
With one run already in for Salt River and two runners still on base, Jones, who batted fourth and started in center field, belted a 3-2 offering from Glendale starter Chris Anderson (Dodgers) over the wall in left-center field to give the Rafters an early 4-0 lead.
"[Anderson] was leaving some pitches over the plate early in the game, so I was looking for something like that to get extended on and drive in more runs," said Jones, who homered on the eighth pitch of the at-bat.
Jones recorded his second knock of the contest in his second trip to the plate with a double to center field before swiping third base for his second steal of the season. Jones also reached base in two of his final three plate appearances, via a hit-by-pitch and a walk, to finish the game 2-for-3.
"I've felt good in the box out here," said Jones. "I'm working on some things in the box, trying not to miss as many pitches over the plate as I have in the past -- just making more contact and driving the ball."
Jones, 24, spent much of 2016 in the Minor Leagues, where he batted a combined .257/.327/.407 with 34 extra-base hits and 13 stolen bases in 99 games between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo before joining the Tigers in the big leagues as a September callup.
Though he batted just .214 over 13 games in the season's final month, Jones believes his brief time in the Majors around some of the game's top players has helped him get off to a strong start in the Fall League.
"I think the biggest thing I learned in the big leagues was how to prepare myself before games," reflected Jones. "Preparation is key, and that's what I learned in the month I was around Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin -- all of those guys. Their preparation is unbelievable, so out here I'm working on having a good routine before games."
Glendale would respond with a run in the bottom half of the frame, courtesy of an RBI double by Drew Ward (Nationals' No. 10), only to see Salt River get it right back in the top of the second on a Westbrook RBI knock.
The Rafters extended their lead to 5-1 in the top of the fourth only to give the run back on a wild pitch in the bottom of the fifth. The two teams traded runs in the sixth, with Jacob Nottingham (Brewers' No. 14) plating a run with a single to left field for Salt River and Garrett Stubbs (Astros) driving in a run on a ground out to first base in the bottom half of the frame.
Salt River tacked on another run in the seventh inning on an infield single by shortstop Dylan Moore (Braves), but, once again, the Desert Dogs matched them with a run in the bottom half, as leadoff hitter Ramon Laureano tripled before scoring on an Andrew Stevenson (Nationals' No. 8) ground out.
The eighth inning saw Salt River load the bases with one out before scoring a run on a walk to McMahon to expand their lead to 9-4.
Including Jones, the Rafters' offense had five players collect multiple hits in the contest in Nottingham (2-for-5, 2B, R), Lugo (3-for-5, R), Moore (3-for-4, 2B, RBI) and Westbrook (2-for-4, 2 RBI, 2 R). All but one Salt River starter recorded a hit on the afternoon.
On the mound, Rafters starter Chris Ellis (Braves' No. 16) tossed three strong innings in his Fall League debut, allowing one earned run on two hits. The right-hander issued two walks and fanned three in the outing, throwing 29 of his 46 pitches for strikes.
The Desert Dogs' offense once again was paced by Laureano (Astros' No. 29), who finished 2-for-4 at the plate, with a double, a triple, a walk and three runs scored, to improve his Fall League average to .571 through four games. Ward, meanwhile, reached base in four of his five plate appearances, going 1-for-2 with a double as well as two walks and a hit-by-pitch.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.