ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – At an athletic 6-foot-3, 180-pounds, 17½-year-old Andruw Jones is simply cut like a ballplayer, or at least in the image of the ballplayer John Fogarty wrote about in “Centerfield” when he sang, “A-roundin’ third and heading for home it’s a brown-eyed handsome man.”
Yes, it’s true. Of all the top prospects from the national prep grad class of 2022, Andruw Jones – the son of a former 17-year big league star by the same name – certainly looked and the played the part as well as anyone at this week’s Perfect Game National Showcase, which is still in the midst of its five-day run inside the climate-controlled comfort of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field.
“This is an exciting event to be at. In order to be a Perfect Game All-American this is where everybody comes and works out and then you can possibly get to that,” Jones told PG this week. “So it’s exciting to be out here with a bunch of different guys from all over the country. All of the top guys have [been invited] to be out here and we’re competing at the highest level.”
Here’s a kid out of Suwanee, Ga., who will be a senior this fall at Wesleyan School in nearby Peachtree Corners who has worked his way into the No. 3 slot overall in the PG class of 2022 national prospect rankings (No. 2 outfielder).
A Vanderbilt commit with a “the sky’s-the-limit” outlook, Druw Jones is working to keep his feet on the ground and his head out of the clouds as the summer of 2021 gets ready to morph into the fall of 2021 right before our eyes. At this time and in this place, there really wasn’t anywhere Druw Jones wanted to be than at Tropicana Field.
“It’s exciting just to be out here and doing all the things I can to play at my highest level and get my name out there,” he said. “I just need to make sure it’s about me going out there and just playing baseball.”
The elder Andruw Jones, now 44, was born in Curacao in 1977, made his major league debut as a 19-year-old in 1996 and went on to play 17 big-league seasons, most with the Atlanta Braves (1996-2007); a center fielder, he was a five-time All-Star and a five-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner.
Andruw played his last game in the majors in October 2012 as a 35-year-old and just one month before his son’s 9th birthday. As a result, according to Druw Jones, Andruw wasn’t around a lot when Druw was in elementary school and the youngster actually spent a lot of time with his maternal grandfather, JD Derick, who was more of a presence in his life. That started to change as the years rolled by.
“As I got older, my dad started telling me a little bit more and he would mainly just say go out there and have fun and just play as hard as you can all the time.”
The elder Jones, in the role of ex-major leaguer, has been actively involved with Perfect Game’s philanthropic arm, PG Cares, for a number of years now and has made himself available at numerous fundraising events all across the country.
“I love to be a part of this great organization,” he said. “We do charity events together to raise money and provide for these kids and have a better foundation to keep growing baseball. Having kids playing in Perfect Game [events] is always great...and it just continues to grow.”
When it comes to his son, Andruw talks non-stop about the importance of getting to the field, being mentally prepared and playing as hard as the body allows, but mostly he emphasizes the importance of having fun. Nothing but nothing should replace the fun-factor when it comes to baseball, he believes.
“I’m just here trying to support him. He made the choice to play baseball and I’m just going to support him; that’s it. He’s still got to go out there and enjoy it and appreciate the game,” Andruw said. “It’s been fun; he has grown a lot. He’s still learning the game and I’m proud of what he’s been doing...
“You want to still be a teenager, still be that kid that you want to be and just enjoy life,” he tells Druw. “I know how much you want to be in Major League Baseball or make baseball your career but you still have to be a kid and go out there and have fun.”
And make no mistake, it certainly appears that Druw Jones is having a grand old time. The PG career he’s enjoyed to this point isn’t unmatched when it comes to his level of involvement but it just might be unrivaled when it comes to the accolades and honors he’s picked up throughout what has truly been a remarkable ride.
Counting the PG National, Jones has now been rostered at 68 PG tournaments and showcases since the summer of 2015 and his PG trophy room is bursting at its door hinges with 91 awards. Most prominent among them are the 44 all-tournament team selections, most earned while playing with the Georgia-based 643 DP Cougars organization.
Five times he has been named a tournament’s MVP, a result of playing on 643 DP teams that won four PG WWBA, three PG BCS, two PG Youth and one PG Super25 tournament championships with Jones in the lineup. There is a word for a kid with that many championships on his resume and that word is “winner.”
The association with 643 DP was obviously mutually beneficial for everyone involved but Jones has been playing this summer with the powerhouse FTB/Philadelphia Phillies Scout Team out of Florida, a squad that boasts an incredibly talented roster replete with more than a dozen D-I prospects.
Jones has twice already earned all-tournament accolades with the team, at both the PG 17u National Elite Championship and the 17u Ultimate Baseball Championship. But Andruw Jones will not forsake the program that brought him this far.
“I’m going to give it up for 643; they’ve developed me all the way since I was 12 years old,” he said. “643 made me the best player I can be and a humble human. It’s not always the best guys on your squad but you get to play with a lot of guys that just want to compete and be out here every day, and I give it to them.
“They always want to compete and we see them in tournaments all the time and they’re always doing their thing,” he added. “It’s fun to be out there and watch them do that.”
Individually, Druw Jones has found himself included on the Top Prospect List after four PG showcase events: the 2018 Sunshine South, 2018 14u National, 2020 Junior National and 2020 Underclass All-American Games.
The TPL at the 14u National Showcase played a part in Jones’ being invited to the 2018 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival held in Fort Myers, Fla., over the Labor Day Weekend that September.
He has a lot of friends here from that ’18 Select Fest, with 21 class of 2022 prospects who were in Fort Myers that weekend also in St. Petersburg this week. Included in that number are seven others currently ranked in the top-20 along with the No. 3 Jones:
No. 1 outfielder Elijah Green (Miami); No. 2 right-hander Dylan Lesko (Vanderbilt); No. 4 shortstop Termarr Johnson (uncommitted); No. 11 shortstop Cole Young (Duke); No. 12 left-hander Tristan Smith (Clemson); No. 18 outfielder Riley Stanford (Georgia Tech) and No. 20 catcher Jared Jones (LSU).
“You meet a lot of new guys along the way, too, but seeing all the guys you met when you were 14 and all the other top guys [is great],” Jones said. “It’s knowing that we’ve all worked really hard since we were 14 to be here at the biggest level and have everybody on the biggest stages. So it’s fun seeing everybody out here.”
Druw Jones acknowledges that when he was younger he was putting up some pretty big numbers while playing on smaller fields with smaller dimensions and all that goes with that, but as he’s progressed he’s been able to adjust better than most to the changes that come with it.
He’s grown both as a player and a person, and his ability to adapt to new environments, situations and expectations has served him well. When a player gets older, he’s found, not everything is about the stat-line like it might have been as a 12 or 13 year old. And you know what? That’s a good thing. Or, as he told PG, “It’s about trying to be yourself, go out there and compete and win championships.”
Jones' dad knows all about the maturation process: “You can tell him [only] so much stuff about the game but he’s still got to go out there and perform,” Andruw said. “The main thing is just respect the game and respect each other; go out there and have fun and play hard. If you’re going to play seven innings on that day, just go out there and bust your butt for those seven innings and do the right thing.
“My main thing that I tell him all the time is to just go out there and have fun and try to learn everything [you can] when you get on that field.”
Druw Jones told PG that he doesn’t go out on a big showcase stage like the PG National or a big tournament stage like the WWBA 17u National Championship feeling like he has something to prove to anyone – he’s proven so much already.
It’s mostly a matter of showing himself that he belongs, and if that rubs outsiders the wrong way he wants them to know that’s he only trying to do whatever he needs to do to be successful as both an individual and teammate, one who does not take winning championships for granted.
It’s just about doing as much as he can to make everything smaller and more manageable and not bigger and more far-flung than they already are.
It’s become almost cliché to call baseball a game of failure but there’s no denying the essence of those words. No one, perhaps, understands that better than someone who played the game extremely well at the highest level ( 5-time All-Star? 5-time Gold Glove winner?) for 17 seasons, and Andruw isn’t afraid to remind his son that there will be ups and downs.
“First of all, you need to know the rules of the failure in the game,” his dad said. “Look forward to the next day if you didn’t do it today; if you don’t do it tomorrow then do it the next day after that. You just keep grinding and be positive about it – when you’re negative about it, things will go way different...Don’t try to do too much, just go out there and play and have fun.”
Druw Jones speaks lovingly of his mom, Nicole, who’s been like a rock for him all along the way: “She’s always there for me; she always wants the best for me,” he said. “She’s always been around and she’s had a big impact on my life...and I love my mom. She never really has anything wrong to say to me so I always trust what she says.”
Both of Druw’s parents take considerable pride in his commitment to head coach Tim Corbin and Vanderbilt in Nashville, a championship level program unlike most others. Druw Jones called it his “dream school” and even Andruw, who was never able to enjoy the college experience, understands what a big deal this is for his son.
“When a school like Vanderbilt comes and wants you on their campus that’s an honor for him,” Andruw said. “I’m proud of him for making that decision to go to Vanderbilt and right now the main focus for him should be to continue to learn and see what happens after that, but you’ve got to have that school mentality in your mind of what you want to do; the draft will be secondary.”
The draft might not be secondary if Jones’ standing within the national scouting community doesn’t waver. He now finds himself in the same enviable position as Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter – PG All-Americans in 2017 and 2018, respectively – found themselves in coming out of high school, and they parlayed their years in Nashville into top-10 first round picks in this year’s draft.
“Watching the draft a couple of weekends ago, just the first round and the second round, it was surreal; it was like, man, I’m only a year away from that,” Jones said. “Just [thinking about] how much I’ve grown and seen since all these past drafts and it seemed so far away, and now coming here it’s like, man, I’m almost there.”
Almost, but not quite. Druw Jones is really enjoying himself, just like his dad has always hoped he would. He’s a member of a 2022 prep class that is extremely talented and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the elder Andruw Jones.
He’s seen this class perform up-close for three or four years now and never leaves an event unimpressed. They represent the future of this wonderful game and he’s enjoyed watching every pitch, every at-bat, every inning,
As for Druw Jones, he’s in a pretty darn good place himself:
“I really can’t complain; everything’s been going good in my life right now,” he said. “Coming to these events and Perfect Game always recognizing me as a top player is always exciting. I’m just trying to be one of those guys that people look up to in the community and being around for everybody and hanging out and being the best teammate that I can possibly be.”
The PG National Showcase is winding down and with one last reference to the great Fogarty for those who gets the significance: “Anyone can understand the way I feel.”