Earlier this afternoon, news of the first trade of the 2011-12 MLB offseason broke, as the Braves sent starting pitcher Derek Lowe to the Indians in exchange for prospect Chris Jones and some salary relief. The move opens a spot up in the Atlanta rotation for one of their many prized young pitchers while getting some compensation for Lowe, who has been largely a disappointment recently.
But since this is a minor league site, my focus here is to look at the lesser-known component of the deal, which is Chris Jones.
Jones is a lefthanded pitcher who spent all of 2011 with the Kinston Indians (High-A). A 15th-round selection out of high school in 2007, he was initially deployed as a starting pitcher for most of his first three seasons. Finding only moderate success in that role, he was shifted to the bullpen in 2010.
He’s spent most of the past two years as part of Kinston’s relief corps, and perhaps it’s telling that his first year (2.37 ERA, 3.05 FIP) was better than his second (3.36 ERA, 3.74 FIP). Indeed, despite repeating the level in 2011, Jones saw an across-the-board decline in his peripheral statistics. That paints the picture of a player who is failing to progress, either due to his skills already being maximized or an inability to correct his weaknesses.
However, Jones just turned 23, so he’s still fairly young, and he’s certainly ready for Double-A action after pitching reasonably well for Kinston for all this time. Furthermore, as a lefty reliever, he’s heading to the more matchup-heavy league, where lefthanded specialists can carve out careers far more easily.
Jones does get lefties out quite well. He struck out more of them (29) than he allowed on base (13 BB, 12 H) in 2011, holding them to a .145 average. He’s a slider-heavy pitcher who can run his fastball up to 91-92 mph on occasion, and his quirky mechanics could play up in a specialist role.
If he’s going to find success in the upper levels, let alone the big leagues, Jones will need to get more precise with his location, as his strikeout-to-walk ratios have been merely passable to this point.
Taken as a whole, Jones has some possible value, as he could turn into a good lefty specialist if things go right. But there are plenty of lefthanders of this caliber in most systems, and each has a fairly slim chance of making the majors, let alone turning into an asset. The Braves certainly aren’t to be slammed for settling on Jones, as they benefit from this deal in other ways, but he’s not a pitcher who fans should expect to make a big difference for the team in either the short or long run.
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