It isn’t exactly like nobody saw this coming.
Back when Brock Jones was turning heads as a member of NorCal and subsequently earning an invite to the second-ever International Week in 2018 at Camelback Ranch, it wasn’t a matter of if, it was always a matter of when.
Jones had his “when” last year, putting together a breakout performance in his sophomore year at Stanford that’s so long that you literally have to scroll down the page on his bio on the program’s website to see everything he accomplished. In short, he hit .311 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI, was on the Pac-12 leaderboard in nearly every major offensive category and earned first or second-team honors from virtually any and every reputable outlet that covers the game at the collegiate level.
But, even as he enters his junior season with the Cardinal, it’s time to start thinking about the next step. It’s hard not to, really, with Jones’ name appearing in every 2022 MLB Draft mock that’s out there.
On the first page.
Near the very, very top.
“I think it’s pretty unrealistic to say that I don’t think about it or that other guys don’t think about it, because it’s definitely a thought in the back of all of our minds with being in college baseball and wanting to be a guy that gets drafted and be a big leaguer for a long time,” Jones told FutureStarsSeries.com in a lengthy Zoom conversation.
“But, for the most part, I kind of try to stay out of a lot of that stuff, just because I don’t want that to get in the way of my team and kind of moving forward into this next season. Right now, my main focus is to go out there, have fun and play to win and not to get drafted. That’s not really my goal right now, my goal first is to win and get back to Omaha and finish it the right way, and let the chips fall where they fall moving forward. Personally, I think if we’re winning and we’re going out there and getting that far, I’m doing my job as a leader and I think that’ll set me up nicely in a few months. But my parents are definitely a little more into that type of stuff. I try not to look too deep into it, unless, honestly, there’s guy ranked ahead of me or something like that, kind of to just push me moving forward. I think everyone’s dream is to be the number one overall pick. I think it’s unrealistic to say it’s not something that crosses my mind, but it’s definitely not my main focus at this point in time.”
There is, of course, a difference between just getting drafted and potentially going where Jones will. He is, at minimum, a surefire first-rounder, with a perpetually volatile build-up to the Draft itself as well as if he’s able to back up his sophomore campaign playing roles in exactly where he’ll end up going.
But how did we get here? How did Jones turn his “if” into a “when” since the last time we saw him?
“It’s definitely been a crazy journey, and it’s weird to think about for the most part,” he said.
“Just because I was a football guy as well, as you probably know, and the took up a large majority of my time in getting to this point. Last year was my first entire year of just playing baseball, so I’m kind of still new to becoming a baseball player, and that’s kind of the coolest thing about it, seeing how much of a high ceiling I have still moving forward and going into this next year, because it’s really only been one year of baseball year-round. I’m definitely excited to see where I go and where I end up, but I think my biggest thing is continuously growing, not only as a person, but as a player on the field as well. From times in high school and probably the last time you saw me, there’s been a big maturity step. I’m definitely a lot more ready now than where I was at that point in time.”
Ah, yes. Football. Jones, who started playing tackle football in first grade and grew up wanting to play in the NFL, did that too. Did it well, really. Seemed like there was a significant chance that was where his future as a professional athlete lied for a long time; it was a big part of his original commitment to Stanford, and the highly-touted safety ultimately ended up playing in ten games for the Cardinal as a freshman, primarily on special teams.
Jones, who competed internationally with USA Football at the amateur level before coming to Stanford, says leaving the game was “probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make,” one that was partially affected by the COVID schedule adjustments giving him less time to properly transition between sports at such a high level.
So, in the end, baseball won out. And, while Jones is very much so an advocate for playing multiple sports for as long as you can, he says solely dedicating himself to baseball played a large role in unlocking that potential that everyone saw in him several years ago.
“I think putting all my focus and all of my time in the one sport paid dividends in my results and some of my success and some of what we saw this past season,” he said. “And that’s not to say that playing two sports, you can’t be very good at both, but for me, it was just one of those things where I was good at both, but I wanted to be great at one. It was one of those decisions that I knew I had to make moving forward. It was the best thing not only for my future, but for my family’s future as well, in order to become that big leaguer for a very long time. I love football, and it’s one of those things I’ll never not love, because it was actually my first love growing up. But, becoming more of a student of the game and just playing it more year-round, and going from big, stiff muscle to be able to actually move and be fluid and be an actual baseball player has actually showed up, and I’ve been continuously getting better and better. There’s always things you can fix, and I’m still working on becoming that all-around baseball player, but I think that’ll show up this season.”
Jones makes an interesting point about the transformation of his body from a two-sport athlete to solely a baseball player, one that can obviously be seen by his physique in person, but even by something as simple as going back to that bio on Stanford’s baseball page; his weight jumped 18 pounds from his freshman to sophomore year in preparation for another potential football season, but dropped back to a more lean and agile, yet powerful 197 pounds as he gets set to start his junior season shortly.
Getting his body back into baseball shape, just as much as being able to focus on one sport as well, played a big part in allowing that breakout year.
“For me, I definitely like the feeling — I don’t know if it’s an ego thing or a pride thing — I definitely like being pretty heavy, but just maturing and becoming more of a baseball player, my best weight isn’t as heavy as I want it to be,” he said.
“When I’m a little bit lighter, but I’m still strong, that means I’m able to move a little bit better and I’m not so stiff. So, it’s really finding that balance of being strong, but not being heavy and not being stiff. So, that mobility and strength combo is one of the biggest things that I’m focusing on.”
Jones also had the good fortune of coming up on the travel ball scene with Future Stars Series partner program NorCal, an illustrious franchise with a big focus on sending players to the collegiate and pro level; they’ve had over 700 players sent to to D1 schools alone, as well as over 300 drafted by major-league organizations. Playing for Rob Bruno and his group is something that got him way ahead of the game in being able to make such adjustments.
“Rob is one of the more passionate guys I’ve ever met, especially coaches,” Jones said. “I loved it, it kept us on our toes, and it was a lot of fun. But, I think just surrounding myself with players of a similar caliber at that age was definitely good for me. We were all kind of striving for the same goals and the same things; becoming a Division 1 baseball player and eventually being drafted and to be in the big leagues. It was definitely a great thing for me, just because my focus was so heavy on football, but that was in that area where I was like, ‘OK, I’m starting to get recruited because of being at NorCal and traveling and playing good teams or in good tournaments,’ so I really think that Rob and NorCal opened up that door for the most part to make me realize that I could have success in the sport of baseball moving forward.”
The travel ball route — Future Stars Series events included, but we’ll get to that in a minute — is one that’s served Jones particularly well, and one that he encourages players who may want to follow in his footsteps to take seriously.
“I think travel ball is very important,” he said. “I think playing at your school is great, and I think doing all those things is great. But, the network and some of the stuff that comes from travel ball with just meeting guys with similar goals…high school, some guys are just out there to play and have fun, but when you get to summer ball, it becomes a lot more serious because you’re battling for that scholarship with the guy to your left and the guy to your right. I think that kind of environment and that kind of competition is very important. Not only that, being in that atmosphere of when you’re going to those tournaments and you have a lot of recruiters there to watch, it’s very important.
“My biggest advice would be to be patient and don’t panic if it’s not going your way your first summer or whatever it is. It definitely happened to me. I definitely wasn’t always super hot, I wasn’t always super cold either, but staying as even keeled as you can for a long time is definitely important. Don’t rush it, and just have fun with it. That’s what I take a lot of pride in the most, the mental side of the game and making sure I’m the same guy that shows up to the field each and every day, regardless of how my day is going. Being that same loose, energetic, fun guy on and off the field. Don’t let results define you. Continuously grow, find progress in stuff that you’re working on…don’t allow the game of baseball to beat you up too much. Have fun with it.”
There were few, if any, that seemed to have more fun at International Week than Jones, who turned heads by reaching base five times in nine plate appearances over the course of the event, including a memorable ground-rule double to right field off of Adam Macko, who’s now in pro ball with the Seattle Mariners.
“It was definitely one of those things where it was a new thing, and I was like, OK, it sounds like it’s a pretty big deal,” Jones said.
“Honestly, I loved it. I thought it was a lot of fun. I showed up the morning after a football game or something, so I was a little banged up or bruised up or whatever it was, but I think it was great. It’s pretty cool, because you see of guys that were there and you see them again in Division 1 baseball, and it’s that network like I said, with guys like (Drew) Gilbert. I played with Drew Gilbert this summer, and he’s one of those guys that was there. You look back, and it’s like, we don’t know each other, but we’ve been right here with each other every step of the way. It was another great learning experience and a great opportunity to go out there and play the game that we love and compete and just have fun with it.”
Those who saw Jones at that event won’t soon forget it. Of course, Future Stars Series CEO and president Jeremy Booth was on him a little bit before that, and has fond memories of what he calls an “organization changer” of a player.
“We had the buildup to International Week in 2018, and him and GJ (Glenallen Hill, Jr., who was drafted in the fourth round by Arizona in 2019) come into Nationals with NorCal and run a 6.21 and 6.23 or something like that. On a slow track. They’re just having fun and enjoying what they do,” Booth recalled.
“His at-bats were can’t miss and it’s electric. I’m taking this in knowing Brock has yet to play baseball for a full year and it’s hard not to get excited. So I go to Area Codes to see some of the guys headed to IW in Long Beach with New Balance Baseball Leadership, and this kid sees me in the stands. He waves, tells me what he’s gonna do, and then goes and does it smiling the whole time.
So, we get to IW, and it’s day two because Brock played football Friday night. Not only is he there, but he’s in the cages, he’s out there early, he almost beat me to the yard and that’s hard to do. Anyway, he’s rolled his ankle in football the night before and plays the full game- also at night and against Daniel Espino, who went on to be a first-rounder for Cleveland – on Saturday. I tell him I’m going to rest him a bit on Sunday and he almost loses his mind on me, in the best possible way. Now, it’s not hard to see he’s got a lot on the line and a big part of my job is taking care of these guys to leave them better than when they got there, including health-wise. But he was having none of it. I had no choice and put him in, and he stole the show that day too.”
Many who stole the show at different points of that event have, like Jones mentioned, kept in touch since then; there was a tangible example of that aforementioned network popping up when he least expected it; National Team teammate Silas Ardoin, himself a very-highly regarded alum now at the college level, mentioned in his recent interview on FutureStarsSeries.com that he still keeps in touch with Jones, a story that Jones himself confirmed in detail in this chat.
“With Silas, we were both in Omaha together, and it was one of those things where we were reaching out in Omaha, and he was like, ‘Hey, what are you doing right now approach-wise,’ because I happened to be hot at the time,” Jones said.
“It was one of those things where I was like, I know this name, I know who he is, and it’s that network where we’re both here and we’re both working for the same thing. I’m not going to be too proud to share information if I think something’s working. Networking is very important in baseball, and I think it can take you a long way. You can learn a lot from somebody that’s not as good as you, and you can learn a lot from somebody that’s better than you. It’s finding those little details as you continue to grow.”
The focus for now, as Jones said earlier, is simply getting back to Omaha and authoring a different ending; Stanford fell in the second round of last year’s College World Series to a similarly-stacked Vanderbilt team, which includes fellow Future Stars Series alums Troy LaNeve, T.J. McKenzie, Thomas Schultz and Jack O’Dowd.
How confident are Jones and his teammates that can come to fruition on what might be their last ride together?
“We might be a little too confident if it makes sense,” he said. “That was what I loved so much about our team last year, nobody expected us to do well, nobody expected us to be anywhere near the top. We were preseason-ranked ninth in the Pac-12, and we ended up arguably being the best team in the Pac-12. I kind of like that. I like that it’s different this year too, we’re starting top-five, top-ten, whatever it is, so it’s going to be different. I think that fire that we left in Omaha, that feeling of loss, it kind of still sits in our stomach and allows us to compete and go out there and just play with that fire underneath us.
“I’m not going to say that the guys before at Stanford haven’t done that, but I think we play with a lot of edge right now. We compete, we’re not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anybody, even if the benches clear. We’re that team that’ll get after you. We’re not going to run from you. We’re no longer just the Stanford nice boys and that stereotype. That’s huge. We push each other out at the practice field too, we’ll talk whatever we want to one another, then we go to the locker room and that’s that and you’re boys, you’re brothers. That competitive environment is very good. Talent-wise, we’re loaded all over the field. We could probably play our starters or our second team and probably beat a lot of teams this year…I’m very excited to see us finally play another team in a different uniform.”
The next few months are surely a very exciting time for Jones, whether that be focusing on the college season ahead or when he hears his name called very early in the upcoming MLB Draft. He’s come a long way from his days with the Future Stars Series, developing into the player everyone expected he’d one day become.
“I feel like COVID sped some things up, so I feel like I just got to college,” Jones said. “But, I’m already a junior, and I’m already kind of walking out the door. It’s crazy, it’s a surreal feeling. But, my main focus right now is on us. If you’re thinking about it, (the Draft) is really only a few months away, and it’s definitely something I’m striving for and I’m very excited for, but I’m more excited to go out there and win in Omaha with my brothers. I’ve talked to plenty of guys that have been drafted in the past — high-ranked guys, low-ranked guys — and they all say the same thing; the Draft is a weird thing, and things will fall where they fall, don’t look at mock drafts and don’t worry too much about all that. Just go out there, compete and have fun. Do your thing, and you’ll end up where you should end up.”
For those who saw him way back when, it’s unquestionable that, soon, he’ll get what he deserves.
“He’s an exceptional person, it’s an unbelievable family, and it’s been an honor to be part of his path and watch him from a distance,” Booth said. “He’s family, and as the saying goes, we’re FSS for life.”
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