PEACHTREE CORNERS, Ga. — If there's one thing Druw Jones has come to understand throughout his baseball career, it's the pressure of living up to high expectations.
When you're the son of a former Major League star — and one who might eventually be enshrined in the Hall of Fame — it comes with the territory.
However, the pressure the Wesleyan standout is facing as his senior year of high school baseball begins is different.
And based on his own success throughout his high school and travel ball career, that pressure is of his own creation and not a function of being Andruw Jones' son.
Yet if Jones — who signed to play college ball at SEC powerhouse Vanderbilt but is also projected as the possible No. 1 overall pick in the Major League Baseball Draft in June — is feeling any added pressure this spring, he isn't showing it.
“I'm just making sure to come out here and do whatever I can for this team,” the 6-foot-4, 180-pound center fielder said. “I don't really care about the rankings and all the other stuff, the draft projections. Whatever helps this team is all that matters (right now). All that stuff doesn't matter in the long run because you never know what a team is going to think eventually. You've just got to make sure you do whatever you can for the team.”
Judging from the extremely early returns of the 2022 season, Jones' tunnel vision seems to be serving him and his Wesleyan teammates well.
After a modest 1-for-2 season debut with a double in a road loss at Lovett last Tuesday, he turned in a much more dynamic performance in the Wolves' home opener Friday at Donn Gaebelein Field.
Jones went 3-for-4 with two home runs, three RBIs, three runs scored and a stolen base in a 10-5 win over Greater Atlanta Christian.
Wesleyan coach Brian Krehmeyer can't help but marvel at the maturity level his star senior has exhibited thus far.
“He's handling it better than I am, I'll tell you that,” Krehmeyer said. “I'm getting frustrated with the text messages, the emails and the phone calls. And even in our first scrimmage (earlier this month), I looked up and these men are lined up with their video cameras and I'm thinking to myself, 'How can a teenager perform under all that?'
“But he's prepared himself for this. It's not anything new for him. He's got a great support network. So he's going to have a tremendous season. They should know what he's capable of by this point.”
He was named first-team All-Gwinnett County as a freshman in 2019 (.463, 6 HR, 41 RBIs, 4 2B, 1.205 OPS, 27 R, 7 SB) and Gwinnett Player of the Year as a junior last year (.445, 16 HR, 39 RBIs, 58 R, 7 2B, 2 3B, 1.494 OPS and 14 SB).
Besides his skills at the plate and in center field, Jones has raised his game as a pitcher.
He's improved tremendously on the mound since his freshman season, when he went 1-2 with two saves, a 0.84 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. In his junior season he went 3-1 with two saves, a 1.53 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings in helping the Wolves to a 32-6 record and a Class A Private state runner-up finish.
Jones' mound role figures to grow further this spring, though it is still evolving. He made his first pitching appearance in Friday's win, going three innings and allowing just one hit and one run with three strikeouts.
“Druw and I have talked about how he knows he needs to be a pitcher for us (this spring),” Krehmeyer said. “But early in the season with the weather the way it is, we discussed that we'd have him be an opener. That way he can get himself fully warmed up, his arm loose, as opposed to being in the outfield for five or six innings, and then have to max out pitching.
“Now, as the season goes on and the weather warms up, that may change a little bit. I guess (the) Tampa Bay (Rays) made it famous with the opener. Druw is an opener for us.”
As with his other roles on the team, Jones continues his duties in stride.
It is simply a means to an end — namely, helping the Wolves get over the hump and dethroning Mount Paran Christian as state champions.
“Losing at state to a really, really good (Mount Paran) team (in last year's state title series), I mean, it's kind of tough,” Jones said. “It's tough to lose those type of games. We fought hard all the way throughout the season. We only had (six) losses … and they were all to top-ranked teams. So we're just coming out here this season and trying to win as many as possible because hopefully, we'll be able to face them again in the playoffs and make sure we do everything we can just to keep pushing on and be the greatest team.”