Keaton Jones admits it.
“I’m not the quickest shortstop in the world,” he said.
His coach puts it gently: “A below-average runner to first base.”
And yet, as the Big 12 baseball tournament starts Wednesday, Jones is on the way to playing more games than anyone in a TCU baseball uniform ever.
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The senior shortstop already has the school records for career assists and sacrifices. By the time the season is over, he will have played in three NCAA regionals, possibly three Super Regionals and maybe — at least it’s the goal — two College World Series.
He goes into Wednesday’s 12:30 p.m. game against Baylor as the nation’s active leader in games played, 237. It will be his 236th start.
Just what the Horned Frogs expected from a walk-on pitcher, right?
“Yeah, it’s funny sometimes,” Jones said. “I think about if I had just really picked, or they had picked for me — you’re going to pitch. As a pitcher, my career would have been totally different, for sure. It’s funny to think how far I’ve gotten.”
“I don’t know, though. I’ve always seen myself as an infielder.”
What’s funny is that TCU didn’t always.
Coach Jim Schlossnagle remembers giving Jones a look on the mound as a walk-on from Laguna Beach, Calif.
Not bad, but one day, the team needed an extra body at shortstop for an intrasquad game. Jones, like a lot of the best players on their high school team, had played shortstop.
“He got a couple of balls, and I remember looking at our coaching staff: ‘Man, that was pretty good — we might need to give him some time over there,” Schlossnagle said.
The Horned Frogs already had another freshman, Derek Odell, penciled in at shortstop.
“But he was more of a corner position player,” Schlossnagle said. “And we had a kid named Trevin Sonnier, now at DBU, who could have played short but was a long way off as a hitter. It kind of fell in Keaton’s lap. We didn’t really have a shortstop. And he started 61 of 62 games his freshman year on a Super Regional team and — knock on wood — hasn’t come out of the lineup since.”
There really isn’t much reason he would.
Jones has played 202 errorless games at TCU. This year, he’s made only three errors and has a .987 fielding percentage. For his career, it’s about .963.
But the Horned Frogs did try to do better for a while.
“What’s funny is for three or four years, I’ll admit, we tried to recruit over the top of him,” Schlossnagle said. “We said, ‘Well, we’ve got a chance to get this athletic shortstop or this shortstop that can really hit. And every single year, either that guy comes and he’s not good enough to play ahead of Keaton or he signs in the draft. And Keaton’s just there.”
So how has this “not-the-quickest,” “below-average-runner” held on to his job all this time?
Just plain “want-to,” said Odell, who has played third base beside Jones long enough to know.
“He’s the center of our infield and the core of the defense, and he loves having that role,” Odell said. “Anything and everything about that, he strives to make it better and make himself better. Any of his errors will eat on him like nobody’s business. You know if the exact same play comes later, he’s not going to make an error on that same play.”
The dedication has perhaps allowed Jones to overachieve physically.
“He makes plays that are outside of his tool set,” Schlossnagle said. “He’s not very fast, but he’s got really good instincts; he gets good jumps on the ball. He’s got really good lateral quickness, and normally that would translate into good running times or speed times to first base, and he’s a below-average runner to first base. But he can really play shortstop. And he goes down, to me, as definitely the best one I’ve had, or the most consistent one defensively, for sure.”
The record books might back up Schlossnagle, whenever the season ends, and with it Jones’ career, for the Horned Frogs.
“I don’t know what was at TCU before me,” Schlossnagle said, “but he’s got to be one of the best. If not the best.”
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407
Big 12 tournament
at ONEOK Field, Tulsa
Texas Tech vs. Texas, 9 a.m.
TCU vs. Baylor, 12:30 p.m.
Oklahoma vs. Kansas State, 4 p.m.
Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia, 7 p.m.
Keaton Jones by the numbers
237 Games played, the nation’s active leader
235 Games started
202 Errorless games
.987 Fielding percentage this season
3 Errors this season