Justin Jones, a Georgia State junior, has been one of the most consistent hitters and defensive playmakers for the Georgia State Panthers’ baseball club this season.
The Panthers haven’t received much production offensively this year, ranking in the bottom-half of the Sun Belt conference in runs scored, hits and just about every other offensive category.
Defensively, the Panthers are just as lethargic. The team is currently committing the most errors in the conference, which is undoubtedly detrimental to any team’s’ success.
Fortuitously for the Panthers, Jones has found a way to remain consistent on both sides of the field.
Offensively, he finds himself leading the Panthers in three important categories: batting average, hits, and doubles. His ability to make contact on the ball comes as no surprise considering that Jones was a 2015 Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-American two seasons ago.
When he is playing on the field as the shortstop, he finds ways to assist his teammates with double plays.
It’s always interesting to know how top-notch players remain consistent throughout the duration of a season, so The Signal conducted a Q&A with Jones to find out the method behind his success.
What is your mindset when you’re stepping into the batter’s box?
Jones: Well you know we have different things that we think about. Of course, it changes based on who the pitcher is, what he’s throwing, who we’re playing and what the defense is doing. But as a team, our general mindset is just to go out there and hunt first pitch fastballs away. When we do that, it allows our hands to kind of free up, and we’re able to hit and be on time for other breaking balls, as well because we know that our hands are fast enough and we worked hard enough to catch up to pitches in. But if we set our sights away on the fastball, then we pretty much cover the whole plate and get ready to hit.
As a hitter, what’s the toughest situation to be in?
Jones: I think for me, two strikes is something that’s tough and I really take pride in. That’s when you grind out at-bats, and we take pride in doing just that when we’re at the plate. In addition to that, when we’re down like a game we had today, [against Coastal Carolina April 2] I think the toughest at-bats are when things aren’t going your way or going your team’s way. It can really be tough to walk up there with confidence if you hadn’t got a hit all day–you know, the pitchers got you out a few times, so that can be tough, as well.
What is the most difficult pitch for you to get a clean hit on?
Jones: That’s a tough question. It also depends on the pitcher and what he throws. I don’t know; I think a good changeup is one of the best pitches in baseball, as well as a slider. I mean, they all can be tough. There’s no easy pitch to hit in baseball; I can tell you that.
How do you manage to be consistent at the plate?
Jones: It kinda starts with routine – getting in the park and doing the same thing every day. I think that’s a big part of it. But also trusting in that preparation that you’ve done. And also just buying into what the coaches have taught us.
Have your teammates given you a nickname for your hitting abilities, such as Hitman or something like that?
Jones: I’m not really sure where my nickname came from, but you hear a lot of people call me Juice. I think that came about sometime freshman year; it’s just been around ever since. I don’t think it has anything to do with my hitting ability, especially because hitters who have juice hit the ball real far and that’s not really me with my one home run this year.
That’s funny you bring up the home run situation because that was actually my next question. How do you plan on hitting more long bombs going into your senior season?
Jones: I don’t really try to think about it; I think a lot of times the team needs me to have good quality at-bats more often than not. And I think if I try to go up there and set my sights on just trying to hit something high and deep, the team might not benefit as much from that as if I just go up there and try to line something off. So you know, different players have different approaches, and they do different things. I don’t think necessarily the long ball is my game, per say. Probably the best answer to that question is hitting the weight room, so that’s probably my plan.
You’re also a great defender. Which is more of a challenge for you: Contributing to get stops as a shortstop, or producing runs and hits as a batter?
Jones: It’s tough. It’s kind of two different beasts. Hitting is hitting–It’s kind of streaky sometimes you’re going good, sometimes you’re not. But I think defensively; I take a lot more pride in being the same guy every day. I know my team relies on me for my defense, and I really do my absolute best to come out here every day and be able to make plays for them. I don’t know which one is tougher, but I can definitely say that I guess I’ve accepted the fact that hitting has its ups and downs. And I know defensively it kinda does too, but regarding defense, I think it’s something that with a lot of focus over time you can become good at it and very confident in your ability.