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Originally published: 2014-05-17 01:07:22
Last modified: 2014-05-17 01:09:20

Jones adjusting to pro baseball

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

Ryder Jones has a cool job.

Even with some of the pitfalls that come with playing minor league baseball, Jones, the former Watauga baseball standout, loves what he does for a living.

The question facing Jones is, can he do it well enough to reach the highest level?

He will find that out during the next few years. To get to the major leagues, Jones knows there is plenty of work to do.

There are adjustments to make offensively and defensively on every level. Changes in both are subtle to fans and media, but they are obvious to those who play and coach professional baseball.

Jones, who was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft by the San Francisco Giants, has made many of these adjustments. It started when he played for the Arizona Giants in the rookie Arizona League last year.

It's continuing with his new team, the Augusta GreenJackets, in the low-A level South Atlantic League.

Jones got a chance to come back to North Carolina with his new team, the Augusta GreenJackets. Augusta was in Hickory to take on the Crawdads in a four-game series that ended Tuesday at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Jones got off to a slow start with Augusta, but has raised his batting average to .264. He also cracked his first home run Sunday, a three-run shot, in the GreenJackets' 9-4 win over Hickory.

He was 2-for-5 Sunday, and followed with a two-run home run Tuesday. Jones had five hits and seven RBIs during the four-game series.

"Early in the season it was tough making adjustments," Jones said. "Guys throw a little harder and off-speed pitches a little better. The first couple of weeks I struggled a little bit. The past month I've been hitting over .300, just getting my base hits and getting good at-bats."

His manager in Augusta, Mike Goff, is impressed with how Jones is hitting the ball. Goff said Jones' defense needs to improve, but feels it will as Jones adjusts to how much quicker the professional game is to baseball in high school.

"He's swinging the bat really well for a kid his age in this league making the jump from high school pitching to what he's facing now," Goff said. "I'm very impressed with him. Defensively, he's got a ways to go, but that's to be expected. The game speeds up. Everything speeds up. Offensively, it's going very well."

Jones is used to hitting the baseball. At Watauga, he batted .461, tied a team record with 11 home runs and drove in a team record 43 runs.

His first assignment was in the rookie Arizona league in 2013, where he hit .317 with one home run, nine doubles and 18 RBIs in 37 games, while playing third base.

He nearly was promoted to the higher level single-A team in the organization, but a position move by another player made the Giants move him down to Augusta so he could play shortstop.

Jones played shortstop most of his baseball life, except for last season, so the initial move was not so tough to do.

"I love shortstop. That's my favorite position. You have a little more freedom and a little more range. Third base, you're kind of stuck at one spot. You've only got a step or two each way. Shortstop, you can roam a little bit and throw on the run. I like being in charge of the infield. You handle the ball more and you're involved in more plays."

Jones, who stands 6-feet-2, also dropped some "baby fat" to give himself more range in the field. His weight dipped to 190 pounds, but through weightlifting, he's back to a solid 205 pounds.

"I lost a little body fat and I was moving better, so they gave me a shot and I played well in spring training, so they put me there for the season," Jones said.

There are other adjustments for Jones to make as a young player. There are bus rides that much longer than the ones Watauga has to make to play Northwestern Conference teams. The team often plays at night, and then must travel to another city immediately so they can show up to play again.

"I'd say the biggest difference playing is you play every day," Jones said. "You don't get days off, so you're playing every day. We played the other night in Maryland. Then we got on the bus and drove nine hours to Hickory. You get to the hotel at 9 a.m., sleep a couple of hours and then go to the yard."

Sleep depervation is only part of the problem. Finding healthy food can be difficult after 11 p.m., especially on the road.

"The biggest adjustment for me is getting my body to play every day," Jones said. "You get off a bus and your legs are dead. You have to get ready and loosen up and run some sprints to get a sweat going to get your body right so you can perform."

And yet, Jones has no regrets bypassing a scholarship to Stanford for life on the road in the minor leagues.

"I like it. I'm liking the pro ball and I'm happy with my decision so far," he said.