W.F. West High School games aren’t a rare stop for Major League Baseball scouts.
A year ago, Brandon White was the 14th-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, though he chose to attend Washington State instead of signing. When the 2019 season began, MLB evaluators were back, nearly 30 at a single early-season game to watch left-hander Brock Jones’ transformation from closer to starting ace.
By the time Jones finished a 4-3 senior campaign with a 0.82 earned run average era while striking out 89 batters and allowing only 14 hits in 44 innings, 20 teams had contacted him to gauge what they call his “signability.”
After all, he’d accepted a scholarship from Washington and seemed eager to play for the Huskies, though pitching coach Jason Kelly, who Jones had bonded with during recruiting, ultimately departed Montlake for Arizona State.
Four teams made home visits, reviving the recruitment process for an athlete who’d already been through the collegiate version. Then, on draft day, a team that hadn’t visited made a surprise call – the Arizona Diamondbacks informed Jones they would select him with their 16th round choice.
Teams sometimes play hard ball with players chosen midway through the 40-round draft. They let them know what the “slot money” is for the given round, warning them even that might not even be there if a top selection proves harder to sign than expected.
But Jones, who also batted .388 with two home runs and 21 runs batted in, had a plan.
“I didn’t throw a price tag on myself right away. Teams will ask you ‘what will it take to sign you?’ I turned it around and asked them what can they offer that makes it worth passing up college,” he said. “It has to be enough to take care of the next five years.”
So far, the Diamondbacks are still interested. Last weekend, Jones flew to Phoenix. He threw a bullpen session and got a tour of Arizona’s facilities, meeting the club’s strength and conditioning coaches.
At some point he expects to hear a numerical offer and consult his parents as to whether to sign with the D-Backs or head to Seattle in the fall.
“It’s going to be a family decision,” Jones said.
Jones’ presence on the radar of MLB scouts was a testament to the skills he showed as the Bearcats closer, finishing games as a junior for White and Tyson Guerrero, another WSU recruit, on a W.F. West team that made the state Final Four for the second season in a row. White was The Olympian’s overall male athlete of the year after also playing football and basketball. Guerrero was the baseball player of the year.
White made 14 starts this spring for Washington State while Guerrero, pitching mostly in relief, held opponents to a .208 batting average and had a 3.63 ERA while also hitting .277 as an outfielder on days he didn’t pitch. Jones had big shoes to fill and did.
But his gaudy overall statistics didn’t come easily.
“For the first half of the season, it was really hard. I hadn’t started since Little League. I was going from throwing 20-25 pitches in a game to 75,” Jones said. “I got tired a lot faster, but I knew I needed to get it done if we were going to be successful. I needed a few starts to adjust.”
Bearcats coach Bryan Bullock knew Jones would be equal to the task, knowing how much work he’d put in over the years.
“After his sophomore season, Brock really started working in the offseason to change his body,” Bullock said. Jones played basketball for the Bearcats and joined an elite athletic training program at a Lewis County fitness center.
He spent his senior season working on a third pitch – a change-up he hopes will be ready when he reaches the next level.
“I’m working on my pitch selection, knowing when to throw what pitch to certain batters,” he said. “I need that third pitch, but it’s still a little inconsistent. I can throw it where I want it one time out of five, but sometimes it’s right out over the plate for someone to smack out of the ballpark.”
Bullock was also confident in Jones’ competitive streak, recalling the extra-inning second game of a 2018 doubleheader with Tumwater. W.F. West won the first game handily but the nightcap got a little crazy when Bullock and an assistant were both ejected for arguing a balk call against Jones.
“It was a raucous atmosphere,” Bullock said. “But Brock settled in, struck out the next 11 guys in a row.”
W.F. West won the game, 5-2. Jones also has fond memories of that game and one against the Thunderbirds – perennially the Bearcats competition at the top of the 2A Evergreen Conference – in which he struck out 17.
Jones remembers the overall high school experience more than highlights when he looks back.
“There’s really nothing like playing on a good high school team with good coaches,” he said. “Everyone I’ve played with, in baseball and basketball, have all gotten along.
“It’s hard not to have fun when you’re winning with your friends.”