The Giants sort of lucked out when it came to drafting Chuckie Jones in the 2010 draft. The St. Louis Cardinals were planning to draft the outfielder out of Boonville, Missouri in the 7th round. He was a local kid, and his role model happened to be Albert Pujols. However, the Giants swooped him up one pick earlier, and instead of going to college (he was committed to Maple Woods Community College in Missouri), he signed with the Giants.
Jones is an incredible athlete. He was a high school quarterback and played hoops, but it was obvious that baseball was the sport he was most focused on. Like many multiple high school sport athlete prospects though, Jones' baseball skills were really raw. While he had athleticism and obvious power, there were a lot of questions about his plate approach as well as his overall instincts for the game. Additionally, the fact that he wasn't more widely recruited to four-year colleges was also a question mark, since you think a college would give a shot to a kid with as much power and athleticism as Jones.
Despite the concerns though, he performed admirably in his debut season in the Arizona Rookie League. In 190 plate appearances, he hit five home runs, 47 RBI and posted a batting average of .279 and an OPS of .817 with an ISO of .182 and an extra-base hit percentage of 35 percent. He wasn't dominant of course by any means, as the concerns surrounding him when he was drafted were evident in Arizona. He struck out 61 times (a 37 percent rate) and he had a BB/K ratio of 0.33. Furthermore, defensively he showed some obvious flaws, as his RF/G was only 1.69 and he had a fielding percentage of .922 while playing mostly center field in the AZL.
Now, I know most people aren't impressed by his numbers in the AZL, and I wouldn't blame them. Matt Garroich of MLB Bonus Baby didn't exactly have the most sunny outlook about Jones as a prospect. The strikeout rate was surprisingly high, and his contact rate (63 percent) was also alarming as well, especially considering it was the AZL. That being said, I would compare Jones to Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who also came into the Gulf Coast League as a very raw, but athletic prospect. Here are the numbers Matt Kemp put up as an 18 year old in the GCL:
168 plate appearances, .270 average, .298 OBP, .346 Slugging, .644 OPS, .076 ISO, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 7 BB, 25 SO.
Now, Kemp is a better athlete and does have more speed and range as an outfielder than Jones. I don't think Jones could do what Kemp does in center field with the Dodgers. However, Kemp was a player with raw power, but didn't have the best plate approach. Granted, he did strike out a lower rate than Jones (16 percent), but his walk to strikeout ratio was very similar (0.28).
Jones already is off to a better start than Kemp when it comes to power (his ISO obviously shows that). Furthermore, Jones drew more walks than Kemp (who had only a 4 percent walk rate as a rookie), so Jones does have that advantage over the Dodger center fielder at this point. If Jones can hone his approach a little better and improve his strike zone recognition and batting eye (which is possible as he continues to face professional pitching), it isn't out of the question to think that Jones could bring an Kemp-like offensive upside to the Giants organization.
For those who think I might be reaching about the Kemp-comparison, here is what Baseball America said in their writeup on Jones:
"Jones doesn't bother to cut down his swing with two strikes, fanning 61 times, in 165 at-bats. But he also drew a team-high 20 walks, indicating he has some plate discipline. Despite his tender age, Jones is built like an NFL linebacker with above average throwing and running ability. He'll probably outgrow center field, but scouting director John Barr assumed the same things about Matt Kemp when he was with the Dodgers. He has enough arm strength to make right field a possibility."
Of course, this is all theory and Jones, who will begin the year in Salem-Keizer, will be challenged to adjust to better pitching as he moves up in the Giants system. Still, there is some excitement about Jones as a prospect. Baseball America ranked him as the 18th best prospect in the Giants system, and the Minor League Baseball Analyst for 2011 ranked him as the 12th best Giants prospect. You just can't discredit guys with good athleticism and power like Jones. He isn't an elite runner like some prospects who were multiple sport athletes in high school (Kemp, Carl Crawford, etc.), but he can steal a base efficiently (six stolen bases in eight attempts last year), which does heighten his value if he can continue to display this as he plays at higher levels in the minors.
Jones is as raw as it comes as a prospect, but he's extremely interesting because of his age, tools and upside. Furthermore, he's relatively under the radar, which is also intriguing because his career could go either way at this point. I'm not willing to consider him a major sleeper in the Giants system just yet (I want to see how he does in the Northwest League first), but if he can continue to display the skills he showed last year in Arizona this season in Salem-Keizer, then I wouldn't be surprised to see Jones really climb up the prospect rankings in 2012 and be on the Giants radar in a few years.