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JaCoby Jones Signing Potentially Amplifies Outfield Logjam for Royals

Depth is important, but not at the expense of continuity and confusion.

In case you missed it, before MLB owners locked out the players and the true "down" time of baseball's offseason began, the Kansas City Royals signed longtime Detroit Tigers outfielder JaCoby Jones to a Minor League contract. Here's a little bit about Jones from a previous Inside the Royals article.

Jones, a 19th-round MLB Draft pick by the Houston Astros in 2010 and a third-round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, has played for only the Detroit Tigers at the MLB level. Across nearly 1,200 plate appearances with the club, he posted a .212/.275/.371 line with a .646 OPS and 389 strikeouts in just 352 games. He has experience playing all three outfield positions and is 29 years old.

Jones's best season came in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. Across 30 games, he posted a .849 OPS fueled by a scorching .515 SLG and added nine doubles and five home runs. In 36 games in 2021, his OPS was a career-low .460 and his OPS+ was just 29. 

A quick look at the hitting splits and overall numbers will paint the picture of a player who has struggled immensely as of late and has some glaring holes in his approach at the plate. That's true for Jones, although he did manage to post a 92 wRC+ in 2019 and followed it up with a 128 in 2020. The only problems are that he played a combined 118 games over that span, and his strikeout rates were 28.2% and 31.5%, respectively. When combining that with his 2021 campaign (.170 batting average, .210 OBP, 40% strikeout rate in 36 games), along with his age (29), it isn't hard to see why Jones was allowed to sign elsewhere on a Minor League deal. 

Jones has experience in all three outfield spots, with his strongest position being left field. In just over 452 innings there in 2018, he posted a 6.2 UZR and recorded five Outs Above Average — both career-bests. As a centerfielder, his 2018 UZR (6.1) and 2019 UZR (-12.5) paint two completely different pictures. Per OAA standards, he was essentially a neutral defender. Jones has played one Major League inning in right field.

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So if Jones doesn't bring much to the plate as a hitter and isn't anything to write home about as a defender and he isn't young enough to offer much hope for improvement, what does he offer? For the Royals, probably competition and depth. The only issue with that is... they already have that.

Sure, having another body capable of playing center field at the MLB level is fine. But the Royals have young players like Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares. Is either a proven defender at one of the most challenging positions in sports? No, but Jones isn't a world-beater, either. In left field, Andrew Benintendi will be an everyday starter. In right field, there are enough cooks in the kitchen.

In addition to Isbel and Olivares, the Royals have part-time options such as Hunter Dozier, Ryan O'Hearn and possibly even Adalberto Mondesi who may log innings in right. If catcher MJ Melendez's potential positional versatility is real, wouldn't right field also make sense for him if Salvador Perez is behind the plate? You get the picture — it's quite the crowded one.

Again, adding depth is fine. With that said, the Royals must tread lightly and ensure it doesn't come at the expense of developing youth or figuring out what they have in players who have less experience than Jones. Is Jones a bona fide fourth outfielder? His track record suggests not, and perhaps he spends all or most of 2022 in Triple-A. On the other hand, the Royals are known for giving out plenty of chances. Time will tell whether their outfield logjam will become even more complicated as a result.

Read More: The Royals’ Commitment to Ryan O’Hearn Is Puzzling — At Best