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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Speedy Jones rolls at Main Event

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – In the lasting words of immortal 1960s-era super secret agent Maxwell Smart, “Missed it by that much.”

No, top Georgia shortstop prospect Alonzo Jones Jr. has no aspirations of being a secret agent, not even a bumbling, fictitious one like the late actor Don Adams portrayed in the hit television series “Get Smart” in the late 1960s. But Jones did come up just short – it could be said he missed it by “that much” – of one of the goals he set before he arrived at this weekend’s Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event.

“I try to set goals for myself,” he said at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex. “Goals like what I want to throw, what I want to run and stuff like that. I know how it works now, so I’m able to come in pretty relaxed. I think I have a chance; that’s why I’m here.”

The “chance” Jones spoke of was breaking the event record in the 60-yard dash, a 6.37-second clocking he recorded a year ago at the 2012 National Underclass Showcase-Main Event. The speedy infielder, in the middle of his junior year at Columbus (Ga.) High School, certainly felt he had it in him to rewrite the record book just 364 days after he first entered his name.

But again, he came up just short – two one-hundredths of a second short, to be exact. Jones was clocked in an event-high 6.39 seconds Saturday morning, a time that smoked the second-best efforts of 6.64 seconds turned in by 2015 top-ranked prospect Dazmon Cameron from McDonough, Ga., and 2015 upstart Jayln Dorsey from Webster, Fla. Interestingly, eight of the 11 top times ran this year were turned in by 2015 and 2016 prospects from Georgia.

Although the 60-yard dash record remained unbroken, there was still a lot for Alonzo Jones Jr. to accomplish at this event, which kicked off Saturday and will tentatively conclude with Top Prospect Games on Monday. The schedule was readjusted slightly Sunday morning when rain showers pushed back the start of games two hours with more showers in the forecast Sunday afternoon.

“I had a good opportunity here last year to meet a bunch of new kids,” Jones said. “It was nice to be in a competitive environment down here, so it was a lot of fun. I wanted to come down (this weekend) and compete a little bit before (the) high school (season); it’s kind of a prep thing. I want to see how I’ve improved since last year.”

Jones recorded an 87 mph throw across the infield during Saturday morning’s workout session, a velocity that tied for ninth best at the event. A switch-hitter, he also took part in a batting practice session where he impressed a Perfect Game scout:

“(Jones) has a strong, compact frame and hit from both sides of the plate this afternoon. From the left side he showed some power to his pull side gap and ability to square the ball up, but from the right side he was able to create hard line-drive contact to all parts of the field, showing even better pop than from the left.”

He continued to impress during game-play later in the day, this time out at shortstop. A PG blogger noted that Jones’ “lateral range was quite impressive” and that his “tools are off the charts”. Those are the kind of reports he was hoping to earn when he committed to the Main Event, and one of the reasons his father, Dr. Alonzo Jones Sr., and mother, Kathy, brought him to Southwest Florida for the weekend.

“Al likes baseball and it’s something he likes to do, so this is an opportunity for him to come out and showcase his skills,” Dr. Jones said Saturday. “He thinks it’s important to be here and it’s just another opportunity to get used to performing in front of scouts, so we just took advantage of it, really. That’s the primary thing.”

Dr. Alonzo Jones Sr. is a cardiologist at Columbus (Ga.) Cardiology Associates who earned his undergraduate degree and played college baseball at Fort Valley State University, an NCAA Division II school in Fort Valley, Ga. He was also a Georgia High School Athletic Association umpire for four years, and his daughter, Alexis, plays college softball at Georgia Tech.

“I’ve been around baseball forever; we’ve been baseball and softball forever,” he said with a smile. “As they say around the office, I’m a baseball parent when I’m not practicing cardiology.”

Sixteen-year-old Alonzo Jones Jr. must feel like he’s been around baseball “forever” as well. He is already a seasoned veteran on the Perfect Game tournament and showcase scene – this is his 22nd PG event since June, 2011. Most of that experience has come due to his affiliation with Marietta, Ga.-based East Cobb Baseball and success on the circuit came his way early and often.

Jones won the Fast Man competition at the 2011 14u PG BCS Finals as a member of the East Cobb Titans. Just this past summer he was named the Most Valuable Player at the 2013 17u PG BCS Finals after the East Cobb Astros shared that national championship with Michigan-based Midwest Elite Baseball.

In between those honors, he was an all-tournament selection at the 2012 15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational; the 2012 PG WWBA 15u National Championship; the 2012 15u PG BCS Finals; the 2013 PG WWBA 17u National Championship; and the 2013 17u PG BCS Finals. He was named to the Top Prospect List at this showcase event one year ago.

 “It’s been great, but it’s been a little different at each one,” Jones said of the PG experiences. “Playing with East Cobb has been a good experience, especially last summer when I got to be away from home lot and got to travel a lot, and I think I grew up a little bit.”

Through it all, Jones has continued to climb the Perfect Game national rankings, all the way to No. 43 in the most recent class of 2015 listing (he is ranked the No. 5 overall prospect in the talent-rich state of Georgia).

He has also ranked as the No. 103 overall (college, juco and high school) prospect in the 2015 MLB amateur draft. With all the accolades and exposure came an early commitment to NCAA Division I and Southeast Conference power Vanderbilt University.

Jones said that he played with the East Cobb Astros in a tournament in Nashville, Tenn., last summer that included a couple of games played at Vandy’s beautiful Hawkins Field. Jones fell in love with the place and the Commodores’ coaching staff led by head coach Tim Corbin. An excellent student who carries a 4.2 grade-point average, Jones was also attracted to the classroom side of things at the prestigious university.

“Academics are first, always,” he said.

“It’s been exciting, exhilarating and exhausting,” Dr. Jones said of the recruiting process. “It’s been pretty interesting what’s happened over the past year or two.

“From our perspective, his mother and I, what we want to do is give him an opportunity to do what it is that he wants to do,” he continued. “Anything that helps him do that and is positive, we’re all for it. He’s been doing (baseball) since he was six (years old) so he’s gone from being horrible to pretty good, I think. So, yeah, it’s been pretty enjoyable.”

With two more years of high school baseball left and another full summer playing in tournaments and performing at showcase events – next year at the “upper class” variety” – in front of him, the speedy Jones will continue to have a lot on his plate.

He won’ have another opportunity to break the 60-yard dash record at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, but maybe – if the stars align just so and an invitation comes his way – he can pursue the Perfect Game National Showcase 60-yard dash record of 6.11 seconds set by Mitchell Shifflett in 2009.

 “We’re looking forward to seeing what kind of opportunities he’s going to have,” Dr. Jones said. “We’re open to any opportunity he has that has to with baseball and doing what he wants to do, and ultimately we’re all for it.”

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