LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Detroit Tigers’ JaCoby Jones made headlines this winter for the wrong reasons, but Monday the highly-touted prospect made a strong impression with his bat instead.
The 23-year-old, who was hit with a 50-game suspension in November for his second positive test for a drug of abuse, hammered a three-run shot to left in his first at-bat of spring training, propelling the Tigers to a 7-2 win in the club's exhibition game against the Florida Southern Mocs on Monday at Joker Marchant Stadium.
The home run, which snapped a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh inning, came on a full count.
"I got down 0-2 and I was like, 'Oh, Gosh' and then I worked my way back, not chasing anything and he left one hanging," said Jones. " [I] put a good swing on it went over."
The 6-2, 205-pound Jones, currently ranked eighth among Tigers prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, said he was encouraged by his ability to produce and he hopes that translates into an increased sense of confidence throughout spring training. In his first week of camp, Jones expressed regret for his offseason indiscretions and said he hoped he could put the off-field issues behind him. Monday's performance was a key first step.
"Oh yeah. It was only one at-bat, but yeah, going from that, yeah it's good, carrying over the next couple games," Jones said. "My first at-bat in Detroit spring training -- home run, that's exciting. It was fun, and it was late in the game -- we were tied -- so it was exciting. It was fun."
Jones said that no matter what the situation, he just wants to put together a good performance to show the coaching staff what he is capable of, regardless of where they put him.
"He's made a good impression. He's worked hard. He's a strong kid. He's got the ability to play a number of different positions and I don't know if we've really decided exactly what position would be the best for him or if it would be best for him to move from position to position," manager Brad Ausmus said. "That will be made over the course of spring training."
Jones, whose versatility is one of his defining strengths, played centerfield in college at Louisiana State University, third base in the Arizona Fall League prior to his suspension, and he has primarily done fielding work at shortstop in spring training. On Monday, he played third, though that is certainly subject to change.
"Part of it is what's best for him. What's going to help him develop into the most, the best ballplayer he can be," Ausmus explained. "But, it won't just be my decision. There will be some input on the development level."
According to Tigers general manager Al Avila, the Tigers plan to have Jones play in extended spring training once the team moves on to regular-season play. Jones has 38 games remaining on his suspension.
Other highlights from Monday's game:
-- Pitcher Kevin Ziomek threw two scoreless innings and allowed just one hit in his first start of the spring. He used his changeup effectively and did well, though Ausmus tempered enthusiasm, pointing out that he was not facing major-league hitters.
Said Ausmus: "He's funky. He's sneaky, because of his delivery. He's got a big curveball and a changeup. He looked good today."
Ziomek said it was good to make his first outing and get the butterflies out. Overall, he felt happy with his abbreviated performance.
“The biggest thing going in was to establish the fastball, but the off-speed was feeling good so I worked the changeup in," Ziomek told reporters. "It’s been a big pitch for me the last couple of years. It’s something I want to keep developing.”
-- Catcher Austin Green hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth, and seems to be a player who has increased his stock over the past year. The 26-year-old San Diego native, who spent last season in Double-A Erie, has shown significant signs of improvement, according to Ausmus:
"I was talking with [bullpen coach] Mick Billmeyer today, I think he's got a real chance to be a major-league catcher. He's got a strong arm. He's getting a little bit better behind the plate. He's got power in the bat. I think he needs to refine some things and develop, but I think he's got a chance. he really does."
-- SS Dixon Machado made an outstanding defensive play in the seventh inning after being knocked down on his backside by a grounder. Impressively, he still managed to throw the runner out at first base.
"It was a nice throw from his butt," Ausmus said.