By STEVE KRAH
Three years after graduating from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Hayden Jones is bigger and stronger and more mature.
Jones, who signed last week as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds out of Illinois State University, says his biggest growth since his prep days has come on the mental side. That’s why he wanted to go to college first instead of pursuing his pro career right away.
“I put the dollar amount so high no one was going to sign me (out of high school),” says Jones, who turned 21 on April 27. “I’ve learned to accept failure when it comes, knowing its not going to be the end of the world.”
Hayden, whose father Ken Jones was drafted as a catcher by the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now a Purdue Fort Wayne assistant coach and grandfather Bill Jones (who died in November 2015) was a founding member and longtime executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and selected as an IHSBCA Hall of Famer in 1982, played for Dave Ginder at Carroll. The lefty swinger and earned four letters while garnering IHSBCA all-state honors three times and being selected as MVP of the 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
Hayden’s uncle, Brad Jones, lettered in baseball at Ball State University. His son, Tyler Jones, played at the University of Dayton in 2021. Cousin Chris Menzie was a baseball letterwinner at Huntington (Ind.) University. Jennifer Jones is Hayden’s mother.
Hayden Jones spent his freshmen season at Mississippi State University in 2019, appearing in 27 games (14 starts) and hitting .224 (11-of-49) with one home run, four doubles, five runs batted in, five runs scored and a .636 OPS (.269 on-base percentage plus .367 slugging average). His fielding percentage with the Chris Lemonis-coached Bulldogs was .971 with 64 putouts, three assists and two errors.
Because of NCAA Division I transfer rules, he had to sit out the 2020 season.
In 2021 at Illinois State, he played in 38 games (31 starts) and hit .230 (28-of-122) with five homers, two triples, six doubles, 28 RBIs and 15 runs. His OPS was .730 (.296/.434). He also fielded at a .990 clip with 182 putouts, 21 assists and two errors.
“I loved Mississippi State,” says Jones. “My girlfriend (Savannah Shinn) still lives down there. It just wasn’t a fit (baseball-wise).”
At ISU, Jones worked with Redbirds head coach and former big league catcher Steve Holm.
Jones’ mechanics were changed back to where he had been while working with his father in high school.
“It all clicked from there,” says Jones. “I was growing and maturing and understanding the game at a faster pace.”
To Jones, blocking, receiving and controlling the opponents’ running game are important. But overall baseball knowledge is a major key to catching.
“My dad and grandpa gave me that big piece,” says Jones. “You need that support staff. Now they can let go and let the Reds do the magic. I text my dad every single night. He’s learning from me now.”
Playing 18 games this summer in the new MLB Draft League with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), Jones hit .237 (9-of-38) with one homer, one double, seven RBIs, six runs and .725 OPS (.383/.342). He learned from manager Coco Crisp and coach Ron Mahay — both former big leaguers.
While he still has years of eligibility left, Jones decided now was the time to move forward as a baseball player.
“I was ready,” says Jones, who was draft eligible three years out of high school. “I wanted to get my career going and get my foot in the door.”
Jones’ name was not called during the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft. The phone did ring five minutes after its conclusion with his agent telling him that Reds senior director of player personnel Jeff Graupe wanted the catcher.
In short order, he was traveling to Goodyear, Ariz., to take a physical and sign his contract with scouting supervisor Andy Stack.
“It was not the money I was expecting, but you don’t make your money until you get to the big leagues,” says Jones, who has began training. He and other free agents and draftees will see if the Reds assign them to the Arizona League, send them out to an affiliate (Low Class-A Daytona, Fla., Tortugas, High Class-A Dayton, Ohio, Dragons, Double-A Chattanooga, Tenn., Lookouts, Triple-A Louisville, Ky., Bats) or just keep working at camp.
“Nobody knows what to expect,” says Jones. “It’s where they need help in the organization.”
Jones spent the summer of 2020 with the Brent McNeil-coached Turf Monsters in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Among those running the CSL were Phil Wade and Blake Hibler, who coached Jones on Team Indiana in the Fall of 2016 and 2017.
Outside the all-star series, Jones was at Mississippi State in the summer of 2018. He was the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Newport (R.I.) Gulls in 2019.
Jones was pursuing a Recreation and Park Administration at Illinois State. He says he could complete it in another year.