The West Virginia Power left the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training home in Bradenton, Fla. nearly two months ago with what figured to be one of the most talented rosters in the South Atlantic League.
Injuries have derailed some of that collective talent.
First-round pick Austin Meadows has yet to appear for the Power, while well-regarded prospects such as Barrett Barnes, Luis Heredia, Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire have missed time due to injury. JaCoby Jones, however, has been Mr. Durability for the Power so far this season after a knee injury suffered in a collision at home plate put him on the bench after just 15 professional games last summer.
“I know it’s tough on them because I got hurt 15 games after getting drafted by the Pirates,” he said. “I blew my knee, tore some ligaments. I know it’s tough on them. They have to go back down to Florida — to Pirate City — and rehab and do all that. I just thank God that I’m still healthy and keep moving forward each day. Injuries are going to happen; hopefully they don’t happen to you.”
Jones, a third-round pick by the Pirates out of Louisiana State last year, has appeared in 48 of West Virginia’s 49 games through Sunday. The Power have not fared well no matter who has been in the lineup, posting a 17-32 record, but when things have gone well for West Virginia Jones has often had something to do with it.
“(We work with Jones) to get better every day and control his emotions,” Power manager Michael Ryan said. “He’s an emotional guy and he’s got a lot of passion for the game, which is great.”
The Houston Astros selected Jones in the 19th round in 2010, but he opted for college instead of a professional career. At LSU, Jones was a second team All-Southeastern Conference selection last season as a second baseman.
Prior to that, Jones’ stock as a professional prospect began to climb during a stint in the Cape Cod Baseball League. That summer he hit .266 (37 of 139) with five home runs and 18 runs batted in during 35 games. He also won the league’s home run derby.
After being selected by the Pirates, Jones was sent to short-season rookie ball with the Jamestown Jammers of the New York-Penn League. While there, Jones batted .311 with one home run and 10 RBI in 61 at-bats.
This season, Jones has been a leader for the Power at the plate and a fixture in the middle infield. After playing primarily second base with some outfield in the mix during his collegiate career, he’s making the transition back to shortstop after growing up playing the position — “It’s kind of home for me,” he said after Sunday’s game. Prior to Sunday he was batting .271 (fourth on the team) with a team-leading five home runs. He also has a team-leading 28 runs scored and 21 RBI.
“I work on stretching my hands, that’s the big thing,” Jones said. “Sometimes I try to do too much and get myself in trouble. I have to let the game come to me and settle down and good things will happen.”
That production has been important for West Virginia, but it has not been all good all the time for Jones. He has struck out a team-high 50 times and is second on the team in errors with 10 behind Wyatt Mathisen.
“I just try to hit the ball hard,” Jones said. “I work on going to the opposite field but all my home runs have been to center field and right field. When I don’t try to pull the ball so much good things happen.”
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THE POWER picked up a 7-1 win Sunday to salvage a four-game series split with visiting Lakewood.
Jiandido Tromp opened the game with a leadoff home run off West Virginia’s Shane Carle to give the BlueClaws the lead in the first inning, but the Power pitching staff put the clamps on and kept Lakewood off the scoreboard the rest of the game.
“The first hitter of the game our energy was low,” Ryan said.
“That could have woke them up. (Carle) was outstanding after that. Second, third time through the lineup he mixed in his offspeed very well. “
West Virginia tied the game in the fourth and blew it open in the eighth with six runs thanks in large part to an Elvis Escobar grand slam.
“(Escobar) is not considered a home run hitter by any means,” Ryan said. “We like him to stay to the other gap and do some damage on the bases with his speed. He ran into one and it was good to see. Hopefully he doesn’t think he just became a home run hitter. We’ll see how he responds to that.”
The Power is on the road at Rome and Greensboro to close May and return to Charleston for a three-game series against Kannapolis starting on June 2.
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JONES WAS not the only highly regarded shortstop plying his trade at Appalachian Power Park this weekend.
Lakewood’s J.P. Crawford, the Philadelphia Phillies’ first-round pick a year ago — No. 18 overall and two picks behind the Pirates’ McGuire — has been one of the hottest prospects in all of Minor League Baseball this season.
In 39 games prior to Sunday, Crawford is batting .349 (53 of 152) and has walked 24 times while striking out 23 times.
In the 10 games prior to Sunday, Crawford was batting .421.
Despite the gaudy statistics Crawford, a cousin of Los Angeles Dodgers’ outfielder Carl Crawford, may have some work to do in the focus department. He batted once Sunday, grounding out.
On the play he appeared to not run out the throw to first and was pulled from the game by Lakewood manager Greg Legg before his next turn in the batting order.
Contact sportswriter Tom Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports.