This was not the April that Damon Jones had envisioned following his breakout minor-league season in 2019. In all likelihood, the hard-throwing left-hander would have been getting ready to finish the first month of the Triple-A season if the outbreak of COVID-19 hadn’t put baseball — and much of the world — on hold.
Instead of pitching in Lehigh Valley, Jones is staying in his parents’ home in Idaho with his fiancée and daughter. And despite the difficult circumstances, the 25-year-old is certainly aware that he is in a better position than others in regards to this pandemic.
“I think Idaho is one of the better states to be in, just because it’s not as populated,” Jones told Phillies Nation by phone last weekend. “There aren’t as many people in really small areas, so I think that’s a blessing.
“Plus both of my parents are coaches at the high school, so we were able to get some baseball equipment. I’ve been throwing in the backyard into a sock net. It’s about as ideal as you could make it, I guess.”
Jones is training from home as best he can to stay prepared for when or if the 2020 season takes place. Whenever baseball does start back up, he will be looking to follow up his campaign from last year, and to prove himself as a major league-level pitcher.
Last season was Jones’ best since being drafted by the Phillies in the 18th-round of the 2017 MLB Draft. Early in the season, he added a slider to his repertoire that he learned from watching a video of current Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer grip his pitches during the 2018 All-Star Break. The slider gave Jones another pitch that could miss bats, particularly those of left-handed hitters. He also started pitching exclusively from the stretch after a handful of starts, which Jones said helped prevent him from walking as many batters.
In part due to these developments, Jones reached Triple-A by the conclusion of the season after starting in High-A Clearwater. Overall, he posted a 2.91 ERA with 12.0 K/9 in 23 starts across three minor-league levels.
“It was kind of a blur, honestly,” Jones said of his 2019 season and progression through the system. “I didn’t really expect to end up in Triple-A through the year, but I just kept having success. So it felt nice to get two promotions.”
He did struggle a bit once he got to Lehigh Valley after dominating in Single-A and Double-A. Jones’ ERA in Triple-A was 6.62 in eight starts. Part of those struggles could be attributed to adjusting to a new baseball used at that level, as well as facing better, more experienced competition. Jones also mentioned that getting tired at the end of the season could have played a role. Nonetheless, last season was a huge stride in the pitcher’s development as a prospect.
After finishing the season just one level away from the majors, Jones continued to work on his game in the offseason. He spent a lot of time training at Driveline Baseball. Jones, a Washington State product, was just about 30 minutes from the Driveline facilities in Kent, Washington at his offseason home.
One of his two main goals was to continue to develop a changeup that he can throw consistently. The other was to address his fastball spin, which could ultimately mitigate one of Jones’ biggest weaknesses — his command.
“My [goal was] to fix my spin efficiency on my fastball,” he said, “because I tend to cut it a little bit, which causes erratic glove-side command.”
Following the offseason, the Phillies rewarded Jones for his strong 2019 season by sending him to major-league spring training as a non-roster invitee in February.
When speaking about his experience in camp with the Phillies and some of their veteran players, Jones said, “It was awesome. You don’t really have to talk to the guys — you can just listen and you learn a whole lot.”
He noted that even the biggest of names on the team were welcoming and willing to help.
Jones threw three scoreless innings for the Phillies in spring training before being sent to minor-league camp where there would be more innings available for him to throw. Shortly thereafter, spring training was shut down. All of baseball was put on hiatus indefinitely.
From there Jones made his way to Idaho, where he now throws in his parents’ backyard. He was not going to make the Phillies roster out of spring training, but there was a good chance he could have been up in the major leagues at some point this summer as a starter or reliever — Jones said he can see himself pitching in either role.
Jones still has not given up hope on that idea of pitching in the majors in 2020. If Major League Baseball plays a season at some point this year, he likes his chances of making the team, whenever it may be.
“I know that they need guys to be ready, because you never really know how many guys are going to get hurt if they try to rush everyone back,” Jones said.
“I want to be one of those guys that they can call. And I’ll be ready.”
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