Heath Jones gladly excused himself from baseball practice for an afternoon interview with a reporter. El Camino’s burly first baseman was grateful for the attention. He got little from professional baseball scouts at the end of his successful high school career.
That’s part of the reason that Jones, a three-sport star at El Segundo High, ended up on the Warriors’ roster.
“I was really surprised that he was drafted so low,” said El Camino freshman catcher Ted Schutte, who was Jones’ teammate at El Segundo, “because he had all sorts of scouts around him all four years. We thought for sure he’d go fast.”
Like St. Bernard shortstop Royce Clayton and Redondo High pitcher Scott Davison, Jones expected to be drafted fairly high at the end of his senior season last year. Clayton was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the first round and Davison in the fourth round by the Montreal Expos.
Jones, however, wasn’t picked by the San Diego Padres as a potential catcher until the 38th round. It was a disappointing moment for the 6-foot-5, 230-pound athlete, who couldn’t attend any of the four-year colleges that recruited him due to poor grades.
“I know the schooling is really going to hurt me,” Jones said. “I’ve never been good in school. I really thought I’d go in the first 10 rounds for sure, with Royce and Scott. “I guess I just need to work on some things. I need to improve my speed and my defense.”
El Segundo baseball Coach John Stevenson didn’t expect Jones to be drafted so low, but he can explain why.
“He spent so much time pitching for us, and that’s not what he does best,” Stevenson said. “His best asset is his bat. I also think they (scouts) suspected lack of agility in him. Size is good to a certain point, but after that it can almost work against you.”
At El Segundo, however, Jones’ bulk helped him. The 19-year-old was a two-time all-CIF player and a member of The Times South Bay All-Star team. He was the team most valuable player and the league Co-MVP twice. Jones led the Eagles in batting (.469) and pitching (3.22 earned-run-average) in his senior year. He broke school records for career doubles (29), home runs (23) and RBIs (133). He also holds the school’s highest career batting average (.429).
“In order to really catch a scout’s eye,” said Serra High Coach Darren Fleming, who is a scout for the Kansas City Royals, “a player has to be exceptional in at least one area. Heath is good in several categories, but he’s not exceptional in any one.”
Jones, a power hitter who leads the Warriors with 26 RBIs, was also an all-league basketball and football player at El Segundo. He averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds as a forward in his senior year and was twice the team MVP as a defensive end.
His specialty however, was always baseball. He was introduced to the sport at a young age by his father, Jim, who played minor league baseball, and he perfected the game with the help of his older brothers, Tracy and Terry.
Tracy, an outfielder, was traded this winter from the Montreal Expos to the San Francisco Giants. He was initially drafted by the Cincinnati Reds after a four-year career at Loyola Marymount.
Terry was released by a Kansas City Royals minor league team last summer. He played at El Camino and San Diego State University before getting drafted. The brothers spent much of their time playing baseball on the streets around their Hawthorne house.
“We were always out there playing,” Jones said. “We played tennis, baseball, and Tracy would take me to the field and we’d play the strikeout game all the time. He even coached me when I was younger.”
Now El Camino Coach Tom Hicks is enjoying the Jones family product. The disappointment of being drafted low and even the inadequate grades have proved positive for the Warriors. Jones’ defense and hitting have contributed greatly to El Camino’s 16-9 record (3-3 in the South Coast Conference).
The freshman is one of the Warriors’ top hitters (.320) and he’s done a great job of filling in for All-American first baseman Colin Franker, who left the team after one season.
“He’s been a real plus for the program,” Hicks said. “He’s a big, strong hitter with good power and great line-drive ability. On top of that he’s a great athlete.”
Jones says if he’s drafted by the 20th round at the end of this season he’ll go. If not, he’ll stick around and give the Warriors another boost next season while he tries to improve his grades.
“The main thing is that I want to go as far as I can with my baseball career,” Jones said. “If I make it to the majors, that’s great. But if I see that I can’t make it, then it’s time to go and make a living.”
It appears however, that El Camino’s strong man at the plate has a long way to go before he’s out of it.