Jones on target as a closer

Snapper pitches well out of the bullpen

Zack Jones’ professional career couldn’t have started much better.

The Minnesota Twins’ fourth round choice in the 2012 Draft out of San Jose State had allowed just one lonely run in 15 2/3 innings of work before being touched up for two runs (one earned) on Thursday night. Over that span, he had allowed just six hits and six walks and struck out 25 batters.

He has also collected four saves in four opportunities with Beloit and Snappers pitching coach Gary Lucas believes Jones could have a future as a closer in the big leagues.

“His stuff profiles very well at the end of games,” Lucas said. “He has an excellent fastball and a slider that he can throw for strikes. When you are a closer, or a set-up guy, two plus pitches are sometimes all you need.”

Jones wouldn’t have to adjust to the role. He set the all-time record for saves at San Jose State with 22, and although he started eight games as well, he’s most at home working out of the bullpen.

“I think my stuff out of the pen is better,” Jones said. “I think it’s more electric. And I’ve been closing since my freshman year in college, so that helps with the mindset too.”

To be an effective closer takes not only terrific stuff but also a short memory. Lucas had 63 saves in the Major Leagues, and Jones believes he has the makeup to be successful in the role.

“The mentality is really different than that of a starting pitcher,” Jones said. ““When times are tough, you just have to turn your head and keep working.”

Although it certainly appears Jones will be making his professional living sitting beyond the fence for the majority of games, the Twins still want to expose him to as many situations as possible.

“Even if he does end up as a closer, once in a while he’s going to have to pitch two innings and once in a while he will have to face four or five lefties in a row,” Lucas said. “We want to make sure that he has had experience in all those types of situations.” 

Does that mean that Jones could be made a starting pitcher as early as next season?

“I think that once he gets done with instructionals in the fall and has a chance to get an off-season of rest, we’ll see what Zach Jones is all about,” Lucas said. “It might be that he has a role as a starter for a while, and then goes back to closing. There are a lot of guys in our system that have done that. We try to make sure our guys have as much versatility as possible.”

At this point Jones isn’t too picky on what his role is.

“My plan is to pretty much go with the flow in whatever they decide,” Jones said. “These guys that make those decisions are paid to do what they do. So if they make me a starter next season, they must have seen something to make them believe I can do well in that role.” 

Drafted out of high school in the 24th round by the Kansas City Royals in 2009, the native of San Jose never seriously considered not attending college.

As it turned out it was a wise choice as he jumped 20 rounds, making his signing bonus significantly higher at $375,000.

“My velocity increased while I was in college, but I think the biggest factor was my maturity,” Jones said. “Every higher stage is a stepping stone and I don’t care how good you are, you have to adjust to the level of play. I was fortunate enough to have adjusted well to college.”

Although he perhaps wouldn’t have predicted a nearly flawless performance, Jones believes his success is no accident.

“I’m not really surprised,” Jones said. “I guess you could say I’m rising to the level of the competition. With everyone trying to get so much better, it only leaves you to try and get better. Now that I’m able to focus on just baseball and not school as well, and I have a solid role on this team, I think that’s helped as well.”

A Giants fan growing up, there was a part of Jones that wanted San Francisco to call his name on draft day.

“It’s always neat when you see a hometown kid going to his hometown team,” Jones said. “But more than that I was just excited to get my professional career going and grateful to the Twins for selecting me.” 

While there are only a few weeks left in the regular season, Jones does have a few things he’d like to accomplish in this eventful year.

“We’ve got something special going, Jones said. “It would be nice for us to stay hot for the rest of the season and maybe go home with a ring.”

Jones’ philosophy on pitching to go along with is mid-90’s fastball and solid slider no doubt has Twins fans and brass eager to see him progress quickly in the organization.