REGGIE HAYES: Carroll High School catcher Hayden Jones and the possibly tricky choice of Mississippi State University or the pros

Hayden Jones of Carroll High School reaches back to throw during a game last season. (Courtesy photo)
Carroll High School catcher Hayden Jones. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)

Hayden Jones’ skills as a catcher and hitter are surely strong enough for him to be picked in the first few rounds of the Major League Baseball draft.

But his friends and fans shouldn’t be alarmed if the Carroll High School star is selected later.

Jones and his parents, Ken and Jennifer Jones, have told MLB scouts he intends to fulfill his commitment to Mississippi State University unless he’s a first-round pick or a team drafts him and offers to sign him for an amount commensurate with a late first-round or early second-round pick. The three-day draft runs Monday night through Wednesday.

Major League teams take a hit the following year on their available signing money if they draft players in the first 10 rounds who don’t sign contracts, Ken Jones explained. So even if Hayden Jones has sparked interest in teams after the second round, he could be passed over due to his likelihood of choosing to play in college.

“We weighed what the advantages of going to college can be,” Ken Jones said. “After going to three years of college at Mississippi State, if he does what he should be doing from a growth standpoint, he should be higher (in the draft) than what he would be coming out of high school.”

Ken Jones said signing bonuses can be “life-changing money” for many players. Every family has to weigh the pros and cons of choosing to forego college for the minor leagues.

After going through finals and reaching the end of his high school career, Hayden Jones feels the temptation of an immediate pro career. There’s also the prestige of being drafted. Hayden just turned 18 in April. It’d be quite a point of pride to be drafted early.

“It would be a good feeling (to be drafted high) and hard to make a decision on whether to sign or go to a top (college) program with a great coaching staff,” Hayden said. “Going to college, I could be valued even higher (in a subsequent draft).”

The best parents always consider the big picture. Ken Jones has coached at the college level, and he played college and professional baseball. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres. He has plenty of baseball connections. He understands the college and pro systems.

The Jones family tries to maintain perspective on the long-range possibility of a baseball career and what will be best for Hayden to reach his potential.

“For each kid, it’s going to be different and for each family, it’s going to be different,” Ken Jones said. “Some kids are out there who, financially, have to take care of family issues. So those guys are more apt to take the money. It’s all personal preferences and what you want to get out of it.”

It’s natural for an 18-year-old with a love of baseball to be eager to start getting paid to play. Hayden finished his high school career in strong fashion, hitting nearly .500 with 10 home runs. In the short-term view, what would be better than making baseball his full-time business?

“My dad describes how pro ball works and how it’s not all glory,” Hayden said. “It’s a grind and it might be four or six years before you (reach the majors). You could be 24 by then. That opened my eyes big-time, and helped sway me how, if I go to college, I could be valued even higher.”

A good local example in recent years is former Norwell standout Josh VanMeter, who was drafted out of high school in the fifth round in 2013 and has worked his way up to Class AAA. VanMeter keeps climbing the ladder, but he’s the first to acknowledge there’s a challenging grind to minor-league baseball.

The possible decision of whether to turn pro out of high school has been a regular topic of conversation in the Jones home.

“We’ve tried to educate him, and leave as much as we can to him,” Ken Jones said. “We’ve tried to at least influence him with our thoughts. Like every other 18-year-old boy, he’d like to be done with school. But in the long run, he understands the value of going to college.”

Mississippi State is one of the best baseball schools in the country, so Hayden Jones will improve as a catcher if he goes to college before turning pro. He said he loves Mississippi State and sees the long-term benefits of taking the college route.

But if there’s a team willing to draft Hayden and sign him to the right deal, his parents will give their blessing to take the money and run to the pro diamond.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.


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