Former Columbus High standout could go high in MLB draft
By DAVID MITCHELL
Al Jones looks the part.
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Dressed for a practice session at the baseball field, he carries a bat and glove and wears a crisp Vanderbilt baseball cap. He doesn't tower over anyone, but he is built with plenty of strength. He has signed to play college ball for the Commodores but hasn't joined his new club yet.
He may not ever, depending on what happens in Monday's Major League Baseball first-year player draft. He is consistently rated among the nation's top prospects, projected by many to be selected in one of the first two rounds of the draft. In one ranking released by Athlon Sports earlier this year, he was rated the No. 21 prospect in the country and was praised for his blazing speed.
But he's also well-known for his mind.
He is well-spoken and polite, preferring to smile in a portrait taken for the Ledger-Enquirer rather than apply the oft-used tough guy facade. Raised by two successful parents -- his dad (Alonzo Jones Sr.) a cardiologist and his mom (Kathy Jones) a social worker -- he values highly his education, and it shows both in and out of the classroom.
And that's why his decision over whether to sign a baseball contract after the draft or to begin his education at Vanderbilt, a school well-known for its academics, won't be an easy one.
"I don't really have any expectations yet," Jones said on Thursday. "It's a decision I'll have to consider after the draft. I'll weigh my options and talk to my family and make the best decision for me. But I have two
really good options."
That, he does.
As far as baseball goes, he has something few other athletes possess: pure, unteachable, God-given speed. He's not just fast like fast players are fast. He's fast like some of the elite base-stealers have been -- Kenny Lofton, Michael Bourn and Billy Hamilton.
Both Bourn and Lofton have been reported to clock in around 6.2 in the 60-yard dash, baseball's tried-and-true metric for measuring speed. You won't find many players on any current major league roster who can match that number.
Jones, however, ran a 6.17 at last year's Perfect Game showcase in Fort Myers, Fla. It was the second-fastest time ever recorded by Perfect Game and immediately had scouts salivating.
"I don't know," he said when asked about the origin of his speed. "I don't know how fast I really was when I was younger. We started doing speed training drills when I was about 13, though, and it all kind of came from there."
He is yet to reach his potential in the field or at the plate, and he suffered his first ever injury this year, a hand injury that required surgery and forced him to miss two-thirds of the season for Columbus High. Still, in his limited time as a senior -- 13 games -- he hit .394 with 12 runs scored and stole 13 bases.
Those numbers indicate he is more than capable of growing into a bona fide top-of-the-order guy at the professional level. But it is his speed, more than anything, that will attract teams' attention early in Monday's draft (7 p.m. on MLB Network).
But he would likely get many of the same opportunities on the field at Vanderbilt, a program that consistently churns out some of the best talent into the draft each year. He will have exposure -- Vanderbilt won the national baseball championship in 2014 and is currently matched against Illinois in this season's super-regional round -- and plenty of opportunity to grow.
And he would get that education.
It was stressed by his parents from a young age. His sister, Alexis, attends Georgia Tech on a softball scholarship, but noted she chose the school for its academic reputation. Al is no different.
He laughed off the idea of knowing exactly what he wanted to do with his education -- "Who really knows?" he asked -- but said he was interested in pursuing sports journalism.
"It makes school an attractive prospect," he said. "I know how important it is to earn a degree."
Whatever the case, Jones likes where he sits. He said it was hard to believe his name may be called in one of the first two rounds on Monday.
"It kind of hit me yesterday," he said. "It would just be crazy. I don't know that I've really processed it yet."
He said he will spend the day with a few selected friends and family at his house.
Nothing too big, he said, because whatever happens, he knows it is only the beginning.