Matt Connolly

Who is John Jones? The hottest hitter in the SEC

South Carolina Gamecocks designated hitter John Jones (22)
South Carolina Gamecocks designated hitter John Jones (22) jblake@thestate.com

USC sophomore sensation John Jones has been the talk of social media among the college baseball world during his hot start to his South Carolina career.

It would be natural for the Florida native to seek out the praise and enjoy reading tweets and Facebook posts applauding his accomplishments, but Jones hasn’t seen any of it. He doesn’t want to.

“I’m social media free. I don’t believe in it,” Jones recently told The State. “I don’t like phones, computers, anything like that. I don’t have an iPhone or any of that kind of stuff. I’m kind of old school when it comes to that stuff. I’d rather see people and talk to them in person.”

He created a Twitter account in high school after making a deal with a teammate that if the teammate’s tweet got a certain amount of favorites Jones would join Twitter. He lasted only a couple of months, confirming that social media wasn’t for him.

“I found myself looking at some random page of just goofy pictures, and I was like, ‘I could be doing something productive right now and not sitting here staring at this.’ I just deleted it,” he said. “I thought it was a waste of time.”

Jones’ journey to South Carolina is about as unusual as his social media habits.

As a high school senior and even during his first year of college, playing for the Gamecocks was never part of his plan.

Jones signed with Miami out of high school, but opted to attend junior college at State College of Florida instead. He led the team in batting average, walks and doubles as a freshman.

Jones seemed destined to spend two years at junior college and enter the MLB draft, but after one year at State College of Florida, Chad Holbrook and the Gamecocks staff convinced him to transfer.

The choice to go to South Carolina was not an easy one.

“I lost a lot of sleep. I consider myself to be loyal, and to walk out on a program after one year was one of the harder things I’ve done,” he said. “I spoke to a lot of people and put a lot of thought into it. I just kind of wanted to expand my horizons and try something new.”

Jones’ hometown is listed as Orlando, but it’s not near Disney World or downtown. He is from Oviedo, a city with a population of a little more than 30,000. Several members of his family live on the same street.

He said going from that to Columbia was an entirely different world.

“Absolutely it was scary, especially coming from where I kind of know everybody. Every time I’m in my front yard, I see somebody that I know driving by. To come to this is completely different.”

The time Jones spent at State College of Florida made it easier for him to adjust to playing at South Carolina, both on and off the field.

“It was outstanding for me to get a year of college under my belt, so this isn’t overwhelming,” he said. “It’s a night-and-day difference from high school to junior college. I grew as a player and learned a lot of things.”

While State College of Florida made an impact on Jones, he also made an impact on the junior college.

Tim Hill, the coach at State College of Florida, said Jones did a great job of representing the program on the field, in the classroom and in the community.

“It was tough seeing him go, but as I told him, I’d support him in what he does,” Hill said. “The important thing to us and our coaching staff is the relationship we have with our players, not only while they’re here. They all want to stay in touch.”

Jones picked up where he left off at junior college once he arrived at USC. He impressed coaches with his plate approach and hitting ability in preseason scrimmages, and carried that over to the regular season.

A month into the season, Jones leads the SEC in batting average at .422 and is tied for the SEC lead in home runs with six. He is also third in the conference in RBIs with 31.

Jones leads the Gamecocks in batting average, hits, home runs, RBIs, total bases, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.

“I’m really excited to see him off to a great start, but I’m not surprised,” Hill said. “He’s always been a very patient hitter. He has a very advanced approach in the batter’s box, and I think it’s showing right now.”

Jones also has had a big impact on the Gamecocks’ locker room. The team has a confidence that was missing last year which has helped USC get off to a 20-2 start, its best since 2004.

“He’s got a little bit of cockiness about him that this program’s kind of been built on. He brought some characteristics to our team and to our lineup that we had during some of those (championship) runs,” Holbrook said. “As good as he is as a hitter, the attitude and the confidence that he brings is infectious and has made a huge difference in our locker room.”

Jones had one of the most productive weekend series in South Carolina history in late February. During a three-game series against Penn State, he reached base in all 14 plate appearances, going 8-for-8 with two home runs, 10 RBIs and six walks.

This past weekend against Arkansas, he went 7-for-14 and hit go-ahead home runs Saturday and Sunday.

Carolina trailed Arkansas 6-1 in Sunday’s series finale. After the Gamecocks fell behind by five, Jones had an RBI single, RBI double and three-run homer.

Jones earned SEC Player of the Week and National Player of the Week honors following the Penn State series, and he was also named SEC Player of the Week after his performance against the Razorbacks.

But he doesn’t get caught up in any of the accolades.

“It’s easy if somebody’s telling you all this stuff how great you’re doing to think your job is done, and it’s not. I know it’s not. I know there’s a lot more to do,” Jones said. “I just want to keep my head in that, and not in what I’ve done. I’m focusing on what I’ve got to do now.”

Not having social media makes it a lot easier for Jones to tune out the outside noise and stay level-headed.

“I don’t want anything to do with it,” he said.

What a weekend

Sophomore catcher John Jones hit .500 (7-for-14) in a sweep of Arkansas and has been named SEC Player of the Week. A game-by -game look:

Friday

Went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI.

Saturday

Hit a two-run homer to break a 2-2 tie.

Sunday

Went 3-for-5 with five RBIs, including 3-run homer in the eighth.

Where Jones ranks in SEC

First: Batting average (.422)

Tied-First

HRs (6) and total bases (57)

Third

On-base percentage (.515)

Third

RBIs (31)

Fourth

Slugging percentage (.687)

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