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2019 MLB Draft: Rays select Greg Jones with 22nd overall pick

Jones’ other tools are somewhat questionable, but is speed is off the charts.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With the 22nd pick in the draft, the Rays have selected shortstop Greg Jones from UNC Wilmington in Wilmington, North Carolina. In mock drafts, Jones was projected to go 21st by, 29th by ESPN and 23rd by Baseball America.

The 21-year-old Jones is widely regarded as the best draft-eligible sophomore (at least among four-year college players for whom class standing is a relevant factor) in this year’s draft class, and he draws rave reviews for his 80-grade speed. Though the switch-hitter isn’t the most polished prospect out there, he’s developed quite a bit this year and has basically done a complete 180 in every offensive area after struggling as a freshman at Wilmington. He’s posted an extremely impressive .343/.491/.551 slash line — a vast improvement over his .278/.412/.370 line last year — and has 26 extra-base hits in 281 plate appearances, compared to 11 in 283 last year. His plate discipline has improved dramatically, as he has a 14.6% strikeout rate and 18.9% walk rate, compared with a 24.7 K% and a 11.7 BB% in 2018, and he’s figured out how to take advantage of his speed much more effectively on the basepaths, stealing 40 bases and getting thrown out 10 times, compared with 16 steals and four times caught last year. For what it’s worth, he still hasn’t flashed much power (he’s hit five homers this year after hitting four last season), but that’s not as much of a concern when you’re essentially able to put yourself at least on second base every time you get on like Jones can.

Jones should be able to hold his own at a premium defensive position no matter what, but it remains to be seen what that position will be. He’s played short in college but has drawn some concern for his lack of defensive discipline and struggles to make routine plays. It’s possible that he may be a better fit in center field over the long haul, and his superior speed and athleticism should enable him to find success there if that ultimately ends up being the course of action. While there are questions about how well Jones’ offensive skills will translate to the professional game, but it’s hard not to see him, at the very least, carving out a career as a Billy Hamilton-type player who can provide value with his speed on the basepaths and his ability to play plus defense at an important position.