TAMPA, Fla. — New York Yankees center field prospect Spencer Jones wasn’t happy. It was late last season, and though Jones had recently earned a promotion to Double-A Somerset, he didn’t feel like himself at the plate. Through his time in high school and before the Yankees took him in the first round of out Vanderbilt in 2022, he never felt like “a swing-and-miss guy,” he said.

“One thing led to another,” he said, “and I kind of lost part of that approach that made me a good hitter.”

So, Jones shifted his focus.

“I think I was pissed off because I was striking out so much,” he said. “For me, it’s like, ‘Let’s put some more balls in play.’”

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Spencer Jones #78 of the New York Yankees during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field on February 21, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images)

It was a mindset that started to make Jones feel a bit more natural offensively toward the end of an otherwise solid 2023 — and something he credited with propelling his excellent spring training showing.

Jones hit .444 (8-for-18) with a home run, four RBIs, five walks and just three strikeouts in 13 big-league spring training games. The performance helped the 6-foot-6, 235-pound masher win the Yankees’ James P. Dawson Award, given to the outstanding rookie of camp and voted on by reporters.

Incredibly, Jones — who owned a 28.9 percent strikeout rate last year — didn’t swing and miss in the first 78 pitches he faced this spring. It wasn’t until Jones’ 10th big-league camp game that he whiffed on a first-pitch, 83.5-mph sweeper from Philadelphia Phillies righty L.F. Ortiz. Jones would eventually reach via catcher interference.

“I think proving it to myself this spring that I’m a good hitter, it means a lot to me going forward,” Jones said. “Sure, people can say whatever they want. But at the end of the day, I think I validated a lot of the work I did this offseason.”


Hitting coach James Rowson said he was “super impressed” with Jones, whom The Athletic’s Keith Law ranks as the team’s No. 4 overall prospect and said “just missed” his ranking of the top 100 prospects in the game.

“Just the way he carried himself in big-league camp was really cool — and that’s on top of what he did, and his production and what he showed,” Rowson said. “The skill set he showed, along with just coming into camp … He had a good feel for what he wanted to do. Had some brief conversations with him. Really cool. He really worked hard in the offseason and he came to camp in his mind ready to show what he could do, and he did that.

“With that type of player and that type of speed, you’re talking about a five-tool player, essentially. The sky’s the limit for him.”

Yankees win, Yankees fans win too 🥹

Congratulations to Spencer Jones on receiving the 2024 James P. Dawson Award, given annually to the most outstanding Yankees Rookie in Spring Training! 🏆⚾️

(📸 via @NYYPlayerDev on X) pic.twitter.com/IjjQaoFc27

— Play Ball (@PlayBall) March 25, 2024
 

Jones said he communicated often throughout last season with the Yankees’ hitting coaches and player development staff about his approach. He said he gives the Yankees “a lot of credit” for “allowing me to go about things more my way (this season), in a sense.”


Jones said his way was to be “in the most athletic position to see the baseball. Then I feel like from there, it’s about competing.”

A couple other things stood out to Jones about his spring. He raved about captain Aaron Judge, to whom he’s often been compared due to their similar heights (Judge is 6-foot-7), ability to play center field and overall athleticism.

“It’s the coolest thing ever,” Jones said of how Judge treated him. “He doesn’t care who you are, what you know or what your role in the organization is. He’s always going to come up and say hi. That was evident on the minor-league side even before camp started and guys were running around. He’s out there running drills with us, talking with us, just like we’re his teammates. That means a lot to a lot of the younger guys, just getting that sense of comfort and having somebody like that to lead the team is obviously ahead of a lot of other places. It’s pretty special.”

And a talk with Yankees legend Willie Randolph also stayed in Jones’ mind. Randolph, a 69-year-old guest instructor, told Jones what he believes separates great players from everyone else. He said that while physical talent matters, keeping a steady demeanor while putting in the work is the most important.

Jones described his 2023 as feeling like a “rat race” and that hearing Randolph’s advice confirmed that his routine will be an area of his game he’ll need to continue to shore up.

“You see every day with these guys,” Jones said, “whether it’s a tough day at the plate one day or a tough outing the other day or whatever it is. It’s like they show up to the field and they’re the same person and they go and get it done. That’s one thing I want to be known as one of those guys that makes those adjustments but is always the same person in the clubhouse.”

If Jones can be the same person at the plate this season that he was in spring training for the Yankees, a call to the majors won’t be that far off.