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Who is Tyler Jones and what does he bring to the Diamondbacks bullpen?

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A look at the Diamondbacks top Rule 5 selection. Jones put up solid numbers in AA Trenton last season, but batted ball results plus age relative to level ask questions of overall viability long term.

The Diamondbacks opted to spend their Rule 5 Draft pick for relief help as they selected the 27-year-old Tyler Jones from the New York Yankee’s minor league system. He’s got good size for a reliever, listed at 6’4” 240 by the Trenton Thunder’s roster. Jones is coming off a strong AA campaign where he went 6-2 with a 2.17 ERA (1.50 FIP), 1.23 WHIP, and a 67/11 K/BB in 45 23 innings for the Trenton Thunder. His overall numbers in AA are a 2.61 ERA (1.88 FIP), a 116/29 K/BB in 89 23 innings the last two seasons. Jones was in line for a promotion to AAA after a dominant season in AA before the Diamondbacks picked him up in the Rule 5.

Jones pitched at LSU, eventually getting drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 11th round of the 2011 draft. After beginning his career as a starter, Jones moved to the bullpen in 2013 and made it as high as the Florida State League before getting released by the Twins in 2014 due to a high walk rate. Jones quickly signed with the Atlanta Braves and pitched for their A and AA affiliates, posting solid numbers. After a 1 year minor league stint in the Braves organization, Jones signed with the Yankees and was one of the best relievers on the Trenton Thunder team that went 87-55 and lost the Eastern League championship to Akron. The last three years Jones has improved his walk rate from 10.2% in 2014 to 5.6% and improving his strikeout rate from 23.6% to 34.2%. In terms of batted balls, Jones profiles close to neutral with GO/AO ratios between 1.00 and 1.20 for most of his minor league career, although there are some outliers there over small sample sizes.

Stuff wise, Jones boasts a mid 90s fastball and a solid slider. Naturally, his repertoire that’s more successful against right-handed hitters, as they hit .240 vs. lefties hitting .260 against him. While not as dominant at the AA level as relief prospect Jimmie Sherfy (Sherfy struck out 42.5% of AA hitters he faced, Jones 34.2% both having similar walk rates at 6.9% and 5.6% respectively), he should compete with him for a bullpen spot. Even with the excellent difference between strikeout and walk rates, Jones does not put up a strong WHIP, being a career 1.30 at the AA level. Most of that is due to giving up roughly 8.8 hits per 9 IP. While Jones can miss a decent amount of bats, batters that have made contact against him have reached base, with BABIPs of .350 and .379 the last two seasons at the AA level. I’m not sure if it’s poor luck or skill because high BABIPs are consistent with his career to date.

The Diamondbacks are getting a reliever with MLB upside in the Rule 5 Draft, with solid control and good enough stuff to compete at the MLB level. The high K/BB ratio at the AA level gives Jones a decent enough floor to work with, but the batted ball results question his overall ceiling and his ability to limit hard contact at the MLB level. There are also concerns about his overall sustainability since Jones was a year and a half older than the average age in the Eastern League to start the season. For a pitcher with a strong strikeout vs. walk numbers in the upper minors, Jones is a good gamble for a team that could use a few in the bullpen. I don’t think his upside matches Sherfy or Barrett, but I won’t rule him out making the 2017 bullpen either.