On the day of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft, Elon University senior Casey Jones was at the Luke Bryan concert in Raleigh.
Getting drafted wasn’t on his mind, he said. So he decided to go listen to some country music with teammates and juniors Joey Tomko and Michael Elefante.
By the end of the 40-round draft, Jones, the reigning Southern Conference Player of the Year, hadn’t been selected, which shocked many of his teammates and coaches.
“I think everyone’s surprised,” said sophomore utility player Nick Zammarelli, who was drafted in the 28th round out of high school by the Boston Red Sox, but chose to come to Elon instead. “The draft, the way it works is crazy. You don’t really know what’s happening inside the draft rooms.”
Jones, who was named Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Player of the Year last month, hit .418 last season, one of the top-five batting averages in the country. He also had seven home runs, 53 runs batted in and 20 doubles.
“Last year, I had a great year,” Jones said. “If the numbers don’t speak for themselves — I guess they didn’t — maybe this year I have to do something a little different.”
Jones’ batting stats are undeniable, but his lack of a set position in the field often came as a criticism on scouting reports. He started games at first base, second base, third base and left field in 2014, even pitching during the team’s Fall World Series in October.
Still, for a draft in which the San Diego Padres selected current National Football League quarterback Johnny Manziel as a PR stunt, it’s surprising that a player who garnered All-American honors from three different organizations didn’t get picked up at some point.
“I think he’s one of the best hitters in the country,” said Elon senior pitcher John Antonelli. “I think people overlook him because of certain areas in the field. I know pitchers don’t like to face him. No matter if you have him 0-2, he’s going to find a way to battle to a full count, fight pitches off and make you throw the pitch he’s looking for.”
Jones insisted he was planning to return to Elon even if he was drafted, unless he was offered a rather large contract. While the Phoenix finished 27-26 last season and lost in the opening round of the Southern Conference Tournament, Elon returns 26 players from that team, including 10 seniors — a big reason he wanted to return.
There’s a vibe of excitement when it comes to the familiarity on the roster, and it’s something Jones wanted to be a part of as Elon moves to the CAA.
“It’s kind of disappointing — everyone wants to be drafted,” he said. “It’d be awesome to get that honor and actually have that happen. At the same time, I was looking forward to coming back.”
Elon has had 41 players sign professional contracts since 2000. In the past six years, 25 players have been picked in the MLB draft, with pitcher Ryan Pennell as the lone selection last year.
Elon head coach Mike Kennedy was drafted in the ninth round by the Oakland Athletics in 1990, so he knows the draft well. That said, he sees some positives in Jones not being picked.
“I’m glad somebody didn’t take a chance and draft him and release him after a year,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had that happen. That’s just tough. I think he’ll get his opportunity. He can finish up his career, post some really great numbers, and maybe one day get in the Hall of Fame, who knows?”
Jones said he’ll “play with a little chip on my shoulder, I guess,” in regard to not being picked. But it’s not bothering him.
Kennedy said Jones handled the situation well and hasn’t heard him talk much about it.
Instead, Jones is focused on leaving a mark during his last year at Elon. And if that doesn’t impress professional teams, so be it.
“I like being back,” he said. “I can help lead these guys and hopefully get a CAA Championship. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s really out of my control.”