Jones makes it official with Stanford
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Ryder Jones has not played an inning for Watauga’s baseball team, but he’s the first Pioneer to sign a letter of intent to a college this season.
Jones honored his commitment Wednesday by signing with Stanford in the Watauga High media center. Jones, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound prospect, signed his letter in front of his parents, younger brother Utah and members of the baseball team.
Jones transferred to Watauga when his father, Bobby Jones, accepted the head coaching position of the Appalachian State baseball team. Jones pitched and played shortstop and third base for Stillwater (Okla.) High last season, where he hit .477 with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs. He was 3-2 on the mound with 58 strikeouts in 44 innings.
Jones, who throws right handed and bats left handed, can throw over 90 miles per hour on the mound. He said he’s likely to play shortstop and be the closer at Stanford.
“I see myself going there and playing my freshman year,” Jones said. “That’s my goal. I don’t want to go to redshirt. I want to go and play.”
Stanford is also considered one of the top academic institutions in the nation, which appealed to Jones. He was not completely sure what he might study, but suggested he may study management science and engineering.
The way Stanford excels in academics and baseball appealed to Jones.
“First of all, it was the academics,” Jones said. “I like to weigh in half academics, half athletic, so I thought Stanford was the best choice for me. You can compete for a national title every year, and you can do anything with that degree.”
Jones had his choice of almost every college in the country. His father was an assistant coach at Oklahoma State before taking the job at Appalachian State when ASU coach Chris Pollard took over the Duke program.
Ryder Jones considered attending both colleges, but decided to honor his commitment to Stanford. He acknowledged that Stanford is across the country in Palo Alto, Calif., but felt it was the best place for him.
“I thought about Oklahoma State and Appalachian State, especially when we moved here I thought about staying close,” Jones said. “But with my commitment to Stanford I wanted to stay loyal. It’s across the country, but I’ll be fine out there. I’ll enjoy it out there. I like he weather. I’ve been sent off over the summer to play for teams away from home, so I’m used to being away from home, so I don’t think that will be an issue.”
Jones is no stranger to travel. He played for a travel team in Washington when he was 15, which required him to stay with a host family.
Jones also was one of 40 finalists for the United States under-17 team trials, which was selected in Cary in 2011.
“After his ninth-grade summer, we shipped him out to live with a host family in the state of Washington to go play a 65-game schedule and he’s 14 or 15 year’s old,” Billy Jones said. “He’s been out on his own playing and doesn’t have dad or mom to help him through the tough times. He has to deal with it. It was hard on us because we didn’t get a chance to see it, but I knew that’s what he was going to have to do if he really wanted to do this down the road.”
Ryder Jones said he’s been accepted by his new teammates and by head coach Pete Hardee. Jones has been working out with his new team over the fall, and is anxious to get started with the Pioneers in the spring.
Jones’ brother Utah is one of those teammates.
“I’m excited to play with the guys and play with my brother,” Ryder Jones said. “This is the first year I get to play with my brother, so I’m excited about that.”
Jones is likely to have a major decision to make once the prep season is over. He could be selected in the first round of the Major League Amateur Draft, even though he’s signed with Stanford.
Jones is committed to Stanford, but is also open to negotiation with a Major League team. He’ll balance the offer a team may make with the education he’d get at Stanford.
Included in that decision is how much better Jones can get playing college baseball in the strong Pac-12, or in the minor leagues.
“I’m just going to enjoy the process and enjoy playing,” Jones said. “It’s hard to worry about that right now because it’s so far away in June. Once we get closer we’ll start worrying about it more. Right now I’m more worried about getting stronger and focus on the high school season. Hopefully Watauga can get into the playoff run and see what we can do.”
The Pioneers lost 10 seniors from the team from last season. Five signed college letters of intent.
Hardee feels confident that Jones can play a key role in keeping the Pioneers competitive.
“If we can piece everything around him is going to be the key,” Hardee said. Keeping him healthy — he’s not used to the cold weather up here, so we’re going to have to be careful early on about that. It’s good to have him. We graduated a lot of people from last year, so it’s a good year for him to come in and help us.”
Jones also gave credit to his coaches in Stillwater, Tony Holt at Stillwater High School, and his summer coach Chance Jeffries, for helping him develop as a player. Jones is confident that he’ll meet the high expectations that have been put upon him.
“ My high school coaches in Oklahoma, coach Holt and coach Jeffries, did a great job preparing me,” Jones said. “Hopefully I’ll live up to the expectations, but I’m not worried about it.”