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Brent Jones pitching for the Big Red in 2014

Brent Jones '15 could become the highest Major League Baseball Draft pick from Cornell since Chris Schutt was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the seventh round in 2003. Photo: Dave Burbank/Cornell Athletic Communications.

Hurler Brent Jones hopes for early draft pick

There was no shortage of draft buzz in the Cornell Athletics Department this year. Quarterback Jeff Mathews '14 signed with the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent, but he's not the only athlete on the Hill getting national attention: Brent Jones '15, a right-handed pitcher on the baseball team, is poised to be selected in the early rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft, June 5-7.

Brent Jones pitching for the Big Red in 2013

With an increased emphasis on flexibility in 2013, Brent Jones '15 has seen the velocity on his fastball jump to as high as 98 mph. Photo: Patrick Shanahan/Cornell Athletic Communications.

Jones garnered All-Ivy League Honorable Mention this season after posting a 2-3 record with a 2.50 earned-run average and 47 strikeouts in nine starts. While those numbers are solid, they're not eye-popping. What makes Jones such a hot commodity?

"His stuff is electric. It's a 96-miles-an-hour fastball and a Major League curveball," says Bill Walkenbach '98, the Ted Thoren Head Coach of Baseball. "When you've got two pitches like that with that kind of velocity on the fastball, there's just all kinds of upside for him."

For the entire 2014 season, scouts dotted the stands at each of Jones' nine starts. Even when a weather-related postponement pushed his start against Harvard to 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, there were still about a dozen scouts in Hoy Field's stands armed with radar guns and charting every pitch. At his final start of the season at Princeton, Jones had 50-60 scouts watching.

"I stepped up for my first warm-up pitch, and I thought, 'Whoa, I'm going to have to try not to pay attention to that and just focus on my catcher's glove,'" Jones says of the scene at Princeton. "I just don't focus on it, because if I don't pitch well, none of it will matter."

His ability to tune out distractions is impressive, but Jones has also managed to stay grounded despite a meteoric rise from relative obscurity in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After a commitment to another Ivy League program fell through, Scott Marsh, Cornell's pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, spotted Jones at an event in Arizona. Jones then exploded onto the scene in 2012, serving as the Big Red's ace for the first half of the season.

Brent Jones

Brent Jones '15

"The start of his freshman year was a little bit of a surprise; he didn't pitch much in fall ball because he was having some tightness issues in his arm," Marsh says. "But about a week before the [spring] season began, he threw in an intrasquad game and all of a sudden our eyes lit up, and we said, 'Holy Cow.' There it is."

Jones' numbers tailed off later in the season, and he began to see where improvements needed to be made. He tweaked his repertoire of pitches to better complement his fastball. He ditched a slider in a favor of a cutter, which bores into left-handed hitters. He worked with classmate Brian McAfee '15 during their sophomore season to develop a show-stopping curveball. He's also continuing to develop a changeup.

But perhaps Jones' biggest breakthrough came after his sophomore season. He played in Asheboro, North Carolina, in the Coastal Plains League, a summer wooden bat league where teams comprise college players from around the country. The trainer in Asheboro put Jones through biomechanical evaluations that show movement deficiencies in range of motion. Specific stretching programs were developed to address imperfections.

"I started training and loosening up my arm smarter," Jones said. "Before … it would feel tight in the front of my shoulder every day. And now, I never feel that."

Jones is in line to perhaps become the highest MLB draft pick from Cornell, a position currently held by Chris Schutt after he was selected in the seventh round with the 208th overall pick by the Minnesota Twins in 2003 following his junior season.

The first two rounds of the MLB draft will be televised at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 5, by MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 start at 1:05 p.m. Friday, June 6, followed by all remaining selections June 7.

Jones might not even be the only Big Red player selected this year. Ryan Karl '15, an All-Ivy League First Team selection, also is a candidate, as is Chris Cruz '14, the program's all-time leader with 25 career home runs.

"It's going to help us in our recruiting," Walkenbach says. "We can show players coming out of high school that going to the Ivy League does not mean that you're giving up on a chance to play pro baseball. … Brent will add tremendous credibility to what we're doing here."

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