September 23, 2020

Foregoing Final Season with Princeton Baseball, Boone Signs with Nationals, Joining Family Business

FAMILY BUSINESS: Jake Boone takes a big cut in a 2019 game during his sophomore season for the Princeton University baseball team. Foregoing his senior season for Princeton, star shortstop Boone recently signed a contract with the Washington Nationals to join the pro ranks. Over his Tiger career, Boone played in 72 games in two-plus seasons, hitting .250 with 71 hits, 31 runs, and 24 RBIs. Boone is adding the latest chapter to his family’s illustrious pro baseball history, whose line of Major League players includes his father (Bret), uncle (Aaron), grandfather (Bob), and great-grandfather (Ray). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Jake Boone had every intention of returning for his senior season with the Princeton University baseball team in 2020-21 before turning professional.

Instead, he accelerated the process to fulfilling his lifelong dream when he signed with the Washington Nationals in August.

“Obviously it’s something I’ve worked for my whole life,” said Boone, reflecting on joining the National League franchise.

“To have a club give me an opportunity like the Nationals, I couldn’t be more excited. I can’t wait to start working and start continuing toward my dream. This is just another step. I’m excited.”

Boone is continuing to take classes that began August 31. It’s looking unlikely that any minor league baseball will take place before next spring, and Boone is training for that chance and hoping to stay on academic track with Princeton’s virtual classes. Past Tiger players who left early would finish their degrees in two fall semesters after missing a spring semester.

“If it was in-person, that’s probably how I would have done it – fall semester, fall semester – that’s the typical route,” said Boone.

“But with this remote learning, I’m front-loading my fall and taking an extra course in the fall and working on my thesis in the fall to open up my spring a little bit. I’ll just have two online courses in the spring which will help with baseball being a priority in the spring. If all goes to plan, I should be able to graduate on time.”

Princeton’s remote learning mandate and uncertainty about the upcoming college season in the race of the coronavirus pandemic were major factors in pushing Boone’s professional timeline ahead. The 2020 Major League Baseball draft was shortened to just five rounds, and Boone was just outside that range in most scouts’ eyes, but he was on the radar for a pro deal.

“Following the draft, I wasn’t sure I was going to sign,” said Boone, who played in seven games in the 2020 season before it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hitting .107 with three hits and an RBI in 28 at-bats.

“I was kind of leaning towards going back to school, finishing up, and playing that last year of college. But following some announcements from Princeton and just how I saw the rest of the year playing out, my family and I decided it might be best for me to seek out a professional contract this year. That happened in mid- to late-July and that’s when we got the ball rolling to find somewhere to sign. I got an opportunity in late July with the Nationals.”

Boone is happy that he can still finish classes, get his final year of school paid for by the Nationals, and start working toward his dream. He is focused on both through this fall, making the best of remote learning while finding a way to work out.

“I’m with some of my teammates from Princeton,” said Boone. “We rented a house in South Carolina for the semester. Our life is waking up, going to the gym, coming back, and taking our classes. We have a nice baseball facility we’re going to in the afternoons. We’ve got a couple positions, a couple pitchers, so we’ll get some live at bats going. We’ll be able to get all our work in.”

The pros see the 6’0, 185-pound Boone as a slick-fielding shortstop with a big arm. He played in 72 games in two-plus seasons for the Tigers, ending up with a career batting average of .250 with 71 hits, 31 runs, and 24 RBIs.

“When he got to us, he weighed about 150 pounds,” said Princeton head coach Scott Bradley. “He’d go up there flailing at the plate, but defensively he had so many good instincts. You could just see him getting stronger. He had a great sophomore year for us. He had a couple of good summers.”

When Princeton’s season was ended by the pandemic concerns, Boone was able to get back on the field in the summer, joining the Peninsula Pilots of the Coastal Plain League. He played through July until signing when he left the team just before the season ended.

“I was lucky enough to get a spot back on a summer league team in Virginia that I played on following my sophomore year,” said Boone.

“I went back to that same team this past summer. They have a little abbreviated season. I think we got 25 games in so I probably got around 100 ABs. To get any sense of a season in this year was great. I count myself as one of the lucky ones to get that opportunity this year.”

Boone has been around baseball his entire life. He is bidding to become the first fourth-generation Major League player from one family. His great-grandfather Ray, grandfather Bob, and father Bret, as well as his uncle Aaron, all played in the big leagues.

“The way I think about it is I’ve grown up in baseball, obviously,” said Boone.

“My whole life I’ve been surrounded by it. I’ve been super blessed in terms of just how that’s helped guide me through my baseball path and the expertise and wisdom my family has, I can call on them any time regarding anything to do with baseball. I haven’t felt any pressure from my family. Any pressure that I feel would be put on myself. The day I fell in love with the game was just by being immersed in it, it wasn’t anything like because my family plays, I have to play. I fell in love with it myself and now it’s my turn to blaze my own path. I’m trying to do that.”

Getting selected in the 38th round of the 2017 draft by the Nationals, Boone gave up his first chance to turn pro to attend Princeton. His father, Bret, attempted to come out of retirement with the Nationals in 2008. Boone’s grandfather, Bob, is vice president of player development for the Nationals and senior advisor to general manager Mike Rizzo.

“My grandpa has worked with the Nationals for a while,” said Boone. “When I was little, I would go down to spring training and run around with him the spring training facility and see all the guys and look up to them. I’ve been around the Nationals organization. It’s a great organization. I can’t wait to be a part of it. I think it’s a great opportunity.”

As much as Boone’s skills impressed Princeton, the way he carried himself and went about playing and practicing were equally impressive. Bradley appreciated the professional sense demonstrated by Boone.

“Everybody looks at the bloodlines first, but I’ve just seen an amazing young man,” said Bradley.

“For a kid like that with his pedigree and who he is, he could be a bit of a baseball prima donna and expect certain things, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jake didn’t take
anything for granted, he cleaned up the bus when we would get back, he would clean up the dugouts. Nobody would ask him, it’s just how he was raised. He was raised around baseball. He would pick up baseballs around the batting cage, would never leave the cage with balls down. He had such a good feel for baseball, there were a lot of times if I would go watch bullpens or something, I would say, even when he was a freshman, ‘Jake, run the infielders through a bunch of drills.’ He’s almost like a second coach.”

Feeling good about his growth through his three years at Princeton, Boone believes it has helped position him to take the next step in his career.

“My Princeton experience as a whole has been amazing thus far,” said Boone.

“The biggest thing I’m taking away from my Princeton baseball experience is coach Bradley’s coaching style I love. He’s always there to help you when you need it, but he loves watching guys and allowing guys to figure it out by themselves. I think that’s really going to serve me well. Over these last three years, I’ve been able to develop some things on how to fix my own swing, how to work on my own stuff by myself. In the long run that’ll serve me really well. This game is all about making adjustments and making those adjustments quickly. I’ve learned how to do that and I’ve improved on that every year these past three years at Princeton. I attribute a lot of that to the coaching style. I’ve loved it there.”

Maturing as a player and leader during his college career, Boone started to develop more consistency at the plate and added some pop in his swing in recent years.

“The scouts love him because he can stay at shortstop, he can really throw,” said Bradley.

“The number of shortstops you see in college, most of the time you’re thinking, where are we going to move them to? I think they feel like Jake can remain at short. He was in the Coastal Plain League when the season ended and he had four or five home runs in 75 or 80 at bats, so he’s starting to show some power and coming around.”

Displaying that power, Boone led the Pilots this summer with four home runs, 24 hits, and 21 RBI and had a slugging percentage of .477, the team’s top mark for anyone with 50 or more at bats. The summer stop was his last before he embarks on his professional career.

“I feel like I have to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Boone. “I’m getting stronger, I’m working on my swing. The biggest thing is being able to make adjustments on the fly and being someone who can do that. I really focus on being consistent. I want to get to the ballpark and you know exactly what you’re getting out of me every single day. I think bringing that into pro ball will help me.”

Boone is the second Princeton player to sign a professional contract this summer as James Proctor, a pitcher, inked a deal with the Cincinnati Reds in June. Proctor’s grandfather played professionally and he is trying to add to his family’s legacy, just like Boone.

“With everything else he has, I think he has a very legitimate chance to make the Boones become a fourth generation big league family,” said Bradley.

“I think he has the mentality, I think he has the work ethic, and I think he’s just going to keep improving as he gets bigger and stronger. He absolutely has a chance to get to the big leagues.”