Coming off a season in which it was among the last three teams in the College World Series, the Arkansas baseball program will have a surplus of new faces when it returns to the field this fall for practice.
While nine players were taken in the MLB Draft, highlighted by a trio of second-round picks (Cayden Wallace, Peyton Pallette, Robert Moore), the Razorbacks are bringing in a 2022 signing class ranked fifth nationally by Perfect Game – a group that could include one of the next great Arkansas players.
Jayson Jones, an infielder out of Savannah, Texas, is seemingly a prime candidate to join the club. According to Perfect Game, he is the top-ranked recruit in Arkansas’ class, checking in at No. 35 overall nationally and No. 3 in the Lone Star State.
A top-10 recruit and considered a first-round prospect when he committed to the Razorbacks back in the summer of 2020, Jones actually making it on campus was believed to be a longshot. However, despite still being considered a top-200 prospect in this summer’s MLB Draft, he withdrew his name after Day 1 and playing college baseball instead of beginning his professional career.
“Jayson is a guy that a year ago sitting here, I would’ve said that it’s going to be really tough to get him to school,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn told reporters leading up to the draft. “He came to his visit in September, absolutely loved it, loved the feeling. I think he relaxed a little bit. I think if he comes to school here, he’ll have a lot of success.”
Jayson Jones Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds on MLB Pipeline, Jones – with some work in the weight room at Arkansas – could have a similar build as recently drafted shortstop Jalen Battles, who was 6-foot-2, 205 pounds when he arrived in Fayetteville, and Wallace, who was 6-foot-1, 205 pounds as the Razorbacks’ third baseman this season.
The right-handed power hitter has a recorded exit velocity of 105 mph and can sling the ball 93 mph across the diamond. His numbers resemble the aforementioned Cayden Wallace who had an exit-velocity of 103 mph and could throw the ball 95 mph across the diamond in high school, according to Perfect Game. Jones has a good swing and a strong lower half that generates his power.
“A physical right-handed hitter, Jones can crush balls thanks to his combination of bat speed, strength and a grip-it-and-rip-it mentality,” Jones’ scouting report on MLB Pipeline reads. “He’d still do a lot of damage and make more and better contact if he resumed the more disciplined approach he had previously and let his power come naturally. He has displayed a shorter swing and the ability to use the entire field and recognize pitches in the past.”
He is also a good athlete, running a 6.59-second 60-yard dash, which just beat Wallace’s time of 6.68 seconds, and can play all over the diamond.
A Big League Comparison for Jayson Jones
An MLB comparison to Jones could be New York Yankees’ Gleyber Torres: a power-hitting righty with a strong base and the athleticism to play anywhere in the infield. Torres is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and primarily plays the middle infield. He is an excellent power hitter, hitting 38 home runs in the big leagues in 2019.
Both Torres and Jones have strong legs and thick quadriceps. A lot of people think third base will be where Jones will end up playing and Torres was expected to make the move to third as he filled out his frame due to his legs being a bit bulky. So far, Torres remains at shortstop due to his defense and arm strength, which bodes well for Jones who likes to play shortstop.
Both players were recruited as players with good power and strong arms and good sprint speed, and having frames that are more bottom heavy with room to grow into. If Jones can represent a Torres-like player for the Razorbacks, then that will help the lineup tremendously.
Filling Some Big Shoes
Jones won the Home Run Derby at the Baseball Factory All-American Game last September and the Connie Mack World Series this July. Arkansas fans would not mind if he showed off that home run stroke a few times in the 2023 season. He will need it, if he hopes to fill the shoes Cayden Wallace left behind.
Losing Wallace after only two seasons was a tough pill to swallow, especially because he was originally a traditional three-year player before a date change for the MLB Draft made him a draft-eligible sophomore. Still, getting a player like Jones to possibly fill his role as a power-hitting third baseman eases that sting for the Arkansas baseball faithful.
Wallace hit .298 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs in 2022, so replacing him will not be easy, but the two players possess comparable perceived talent levels. Wallace was the No. 25 ranked national recruit in 2020, so Jones is not far behind and may be able to replicate those numbers.
As a freshman in 2021, Wallace put up slightly more modest number, but was still very impressive, hitting .279 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs. Ranked 47th overall in the Class of 2021, infielder Peyton Stovall had a good freshman season at Arkansas, as well. He hit .295 with six home runs and 31 RBIs.
Despite an up-and-down middle of the season, Stovall played up to his potential in the postseason and is looking to build off of his red-hot finish. Seeing where Wallace and Stovall were ranked, and the success they had as freshmen, could be a good sign of things to come for Jayson Jones this year.
Potential Role with Arkansas Baseball
Primarily a shortstop at the prep level, Jones is projected to be a third baseman at the nevel level because of his size and strength. However, as previously mentioned, he is similar in size to Jalen Battles, who was a fantastic shortstop, so he may very well be capable of playing the position in the SEC. The Razorbacks did bring in former top-100 recruit and junior college shortstop Harold Coll, though, so third base is probably more likely.
Changing positions during his career in Fayetteville isn’t out of the question and would be far from unprecedented. A few years ago, Casey Martin shifted from shortstop to third base as a freshman before moving back to shortstop as a sophomore and junior. Similarly, Wallace had to shift positions to right field as a freshman and was able to make a seamless transition back to third base as a sophomore.
“I definitely would like to stick to shortstop, but a lot of people have me listed as a third baseman because I am a bigger dude,” Jones told Pig Trail Nation. “I did run some great times at the combine and ultimately I am just trying to keep my conditioning high so I can stick at short.
“But if not, third base is definitely a secondary position that I have always played. Hopefully I can stick to the left side of the field, but I am open to playing anywhere. I am very versatile. My summer coach actually played me all over the entire field.”
Excited to be a Razorback
Arkansas fans should get used to hearing the name Jayson Jones. He is in good company and, based on recent trends, should be ready to play ball with the best in the country. The Razorbacks are almost as excited to have Jones as he is to be a Razorback.
“I fell in love with Arkansas as soon as I stepped on campus, which I think was my sophomore year,” Jones told Pig Trail Nation. “The facilities were off the charts. Coach Van Horn, Coach Thompson and Coach Hobbs and all the professionalism they bring to the game is amazing.
“It is the best coaching staff in the country with the best facilities and also the best fans, too. I just knew that Arkansas was a no-brainer. I was like, ‘Dude, where else would you want to play but Arkansas?’”
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