The College of the Canyons head baseball coach's ace, Cory Jones, had taken two weeks off from pitching after doctors had advised the big right-hander to rest a troublesome blister that developed on his right foot. It was a nagging wound that Cota described as "big and deep."
Jones took the hill on April 16 against Citrus College with a bevy of pro scouts dissecting each pitch. Rusty from his time on the shelf, Jones got into trouble early. His fastball wasn't as crisp, nor his command, and Citrus notched three runs through the first two innings.
Cato said some scouts packed up and left. They'd seen enough. Those who did missed a good battle.
"For three innings after that, he dialed it in and was back to mid-90s and certain guys were still there to see him get through that adversity," Cota said of Jones. "It showed us that the guy wanted to stay out there and compete and try to figure it out."
Jones shut down Citrus the rest of the way, going six innings and striking out 10 en route to the win, while battling through lingering pain in his push-off foot.
The tenacity and drive Jones exhibited that day are a couple of the things Cato expects the Cardinals to learn to enjoy as well in the near future. St. Louis took the 6-foot-5 right-hander with the No. 180 overall pick in the fifth round of the First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday.
"Ideal pitcher's body," Cardinals scouting director Dan Kantrovitz said of Jones. "Fastball sits at 93 [mph], touches 97, potential for a big power curveball. I think he's got a starter's repertoire."
Jones started 11 games for College of the Canyons this season, going 6-0 with a 2.79 ERA in 61 1/3 innings pitched. His success was long overdue, however, as Jones hadn't been healthy and available for two years.
He'd committed to Pepperdine University out of Simi Valley High School in California, but saw limited action as a freshman in 2010. From there, Jones transferred to College of Canyons -- a small junior college in Southern California. Jones started six games last season, posting 2.47 ERA while striking out 43 batters in 40 innings. But a right bicep injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
"He was really looking forward to a new opportunity and came with high hopes. It was a bummer, because he did get injured after throwing six games," Cota said. "Doctors said, 'You could keep throwing or you could rest it.' And we decided to rest it, because I knew it was going to be a time where he had a chance to be a pretty high Draft pick."
Jones came back healthy this season and was regularly hitting mid-90s on the gun with his fastball. That heat, combined with a big, late-breaking 12-6 curveball, helped Jones rack up a team-high 89 strikeouts, including fanning 15 in one game this season.
However, command had become a bit of an issue for Jones as he'd also walked 38. Cato said Jones' control hadn't been much of an issue in the past, and he added it could have had something to do with Jones' bothersome blister.
"I don't want to make some excuses for the kid," Cato said. "I'm sure he needs some help dialing everything into the strike zone more."
Kantrovitz said Jones' amount of walks was discussed by the Cardinals scouts, but ultimately, there was more to Jones than the numbers he produced.
"We were definitely aware of his statistics at the College of the Canyons. Sometimes you weight stuff a little more than you do statistics, and in this case like his, like when he's got such a big power arm, we're excited about him," Kantrovitz said. "We feel like in pro ball he's going to have a chance to develop better command and better control of his fastball and have a chance to be a starter."
Cato said Jones has some work to do with his changeup -- a pitch he didn't have before he got to College of the Canyons -- as well as a slider he's been developing. While Jones primarily works with two pitches now, the Cardinals don't anticipate moving Jones to the bullpen.
Jones has signed on to play at Oregon State next year, but Cato fully anticipates Jones to take a professional contract.
"He's been nothing but an outstanding guy for us. He's a great teammate. He works hard on and off the field," Cato said. "He's a pleasure to be around, and we've had an awesome two years with him. He's grown up with us. I think he's ready to take that next step. I think the Cardinals will be pleased with his work ethic and his personality."
Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.