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Not satisfied with being good, Indians prospect Nolan Jones wants to be the best

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Top Indians third base prospect Nolan Jones speaks to Let’s Go Tribe about his hockey background, his patience at the plate, and his improving defense in this exclusive interview.

Mathew Carper

From the day he was selected in the second round of the 2016 MLB draft, third baseman Nolan Jones has been one of the top prospects in the Cleveland Indians system.

Standing 6-foot-4 and still just 21 years old, Jones possesses a tremendous ability to draw walks, leading all Indians prospects in bases on balls and currently sporting a career-high .435 on base percentage at High-A Lynchburg this season

The current No. 2 Indians prospect will be competing in his first Futures Game tonight in Cleveland. Word on the street is that he will be promoted to Double-A immediately following the conclusion of the game.

Jones spoke to Let’s Go Tribe about his hockey background, his patience at the plate and his improving defense in this exclusive interview.

Brian Hemminger: First things first, with your hockey background, you’ve talked about how that kind of increased your toughness for baseball. Do you ever like laugh about some of these baseball injuries that people get like getting a massage or from drones or stuff like that?

Nolan Jones: (laughs) No, I think a lot of people would laugh at injuries I’ve had. I’ve always said I think to play hockey, you’ve got to be very strong not only physically, but mentally as well. It definitely helped me in my baseball career so far as physical toughness and mental toughness. It also helps me during practice, being able to put your nose down and just work, work for hours upon hours. I played hockey with a lot of talented hockey players when I was younger. They wanted to have fun, but then when it was time to pick the puck up and get to work and skate our butts off, that’s that’s what time it is. I think that’s something I’ve really taken in my athletic career as well.

Brian Hemminger: You come from a really athletic family. Your older brothers plays college hockey, your sister has a commitment to play in college softball, and then your younger brother’s doing really well in baseball and hockey as well. Could they be following in your footsteps and going pro?

Nolan Jones: My older brother is going into his senior year at Penn State playing goalie in hockey. He’s the hardest working person I’ve ever met in my life. I definitely think he has an excellent chance at professional hockey someday. He has a work ethic like nobody I’ve ever met in my life. I credit him as well as my parents for all of my success. We had a roller hockey rink in our basement and growing up, that’s all I could remember, either playing roller hockey or baseball in the backyard. My sister just finished her junior year in high school and just committed to Penn State University to play softball, and then my younger brother is actually, believe it or, not the most athletic in the family. He’s a baseball player and a nice hockey player as well. He just got finished with his freshman year of high school.

Brian Hemminger: Something that I’ve noticed is you seem to have gotten really involved in helping out with charities for pediatric cancer. Is that a cause that means a lot to you, do you have any personal connection there?

Nolan Jones: I hold it close to my heart. I had a family friend when I was younger pass away from cancer and my brother’s best friend actually died a couple years ago from bone cancer on Christmas Day. So cancer has affected people around my family, not directly to my family, but it’s definitely in my life. It’s in all of our lives. It’s something that we have to deal with. It’s the reality of life. And it’s something that I obviously hold close to my heart and I’d love to hopefully one day cancel out cancer because the pain that I’ve seen families go through and I’ve seen my brother go through and I’ve been through, I don’t think anybody deserves to go through that.

Brian Hemminger: We’re going to switch gears to a lighter topic, who is your toughest challenge in Words with Friends?

Nolan Jones: (laughs) That’s actually funny, and you won’t believe my answer. So Ernie Clement is really good. Clement is really good, but another player we have in the organization, Trenton Brooks, his mom is the best Words with Friends player I’ve ever played. She’s absolutely incredible. Every time I see her I just tell her she cheats because I just don’t believe that she’s that good.

Brian Hemminger: Now do you do anything else fun like that to relax with your teammates when you got some downtime and need to recharge the batteries? I saw you golf and I think you play Fortnite.

Nolan Jones: I do golf and I do play Fortnite. I wouldn’t say I’m good at either, but I definitely enjoy myself. I have fun. I can hit the ball pretty far in golf. I have no idea where it’s going so I have to bring extra balls always. And then Fortnite, I’m on there for a good time. I’m not going to get the most kills, probably not going to win, but it definitely gives me a couple hours to talk to my friends whenever I need it.

Brian Hemminger: Is Triston McKenzie still the guy to beat?

Nolan Jones: (laughs) He likes to think so, but he’s not anymore. He’s actually playing a different game now. He plays Apex. That game? He’s good at, but yeah, he’s no longer the Fortnite king. The best in our system at Fortnite is Ulysses Cantu. He’s incredible. I don’t understand how he can be that good at Fortnite. He’s definitely my favorite guy to play with. He helps me out a lot.

Brian Hemminger: One more before we start switching over to baseball questions, but I always like to hear what’s on the prospect’s Netflix queue. What’s something that you have been binge watching lately?

Nolan Jones: Right now for me, I just got done with The Blacklist. On our last road trip, I closed my eyes and I woke up like, “Oh my god, now what do I do?” I’m actually currently on the hunt for a new show. I just got done with Blacklist and previously before that, I finished White Collar. So I’m into like, crime shows, but not like police, more like where the good guy is also the bad guy.

Brian Hemminger: OK, let’s talk about the Home Run Derby in Paradise. What was that experience like? It was pretty cool on my end watching all those amazing prospects just blast bombs in the Bahamas.

Nolan Jones: I was actually just talking to somebody about this this morning. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I got to go down with 25 professional baseball players and actually, to backtrack a little bit, I didn’t think it was gonna happen. Todd [Isaacs] told me, he was like, “Hey, bro, I want you in my Home Run Derby.” And I was like, “Oh, I would love to come,” which obviously I would. And I kind of put it past the fact that I might actually be going until one day he calls me. He’s like, “Bro, I got a plane ticket for you to come hit in my home run derby.” I was like, “You’re kidding.” He’s like, “No, bro, please come. We’d love to have you.”

So you’ve got 25 professional baseball players blasting home runs into one of the most beautiful oceans in the world. There’s probably 5,000 people there, Bahamians. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Bahamas, but Bahamians love to have a good time. They like loud music. They like dancing. They like to have a good time. So you can imagine the vibe around the venue blasting music. There’s tents set up everywhere with food. There’s drinks, there’s loud music, everyone’s dancing. It was one of the coolest experience in my life. I had an incredible time and I got the invite. I’m extremely excited to say that I’ll be returning to the Don’t Blink Home Run Derby this offseason.

Brian Hemminger: Speaking of home runs, after last year’s power breakout that you had, you had a bit of a slow start with home runs this year. Did you keep the same approach because you were still getting on base like crazy because it was just the extra base hits that weren’t coming. Was that frustrating? Did you have to make an adjustment?

Nolan Jones: It was frustrating, but it’s all in the process. I haven’t made a change. I stuck to the process of hitting the ball hard the other way and being stubborn with my strike zone. I think I’m the kind of hitter to get on base a lot. I don’t see myself being the guy that’s currently going to hit the home run. One day in my future, I would love to be that guy that drives in 100 runs a year and able to hit a bunch of home runs, because who doesn’t love home runs? But currently, I still think I think I do have the power, but right now as a hitter, I’m more of a ‘get on base’ kind of guy that hits the ball hard.

But as for the home runs, like I said, I think they’ll come. I’ve never been worried about home runs. It’s not something that I I push for or something I’m worried about. Even last year, I mean, I hit 19 home runs and there was not one time I went up to the plate and I said, “Well, I’m gonna go up here, I’m gonna hit a home run.” It’s always having to go, “I’m gonna hit the ball hard the other way,” and then good things happen. I’ll tell you what, there’s a big difference between hitting in Lake County and hitting in Lynchburg. Those fields are completely different.

Brian Hemminger: Speaking of getting on base, you have one of the most patient approaches I think I’ve ever seen of any prospect, and I was wondering what goes into that? Is it about limiting your strike zone? Is it about being able to detect what’s coming really well, having a great eye? What has allowed you to be so successful at drawing a lot of walks and frustrating pitchers?

Nolan Jones: I think it’s all about knowing yourself honestly. For me, I still don’t know myself as well as I’d like to as a hitter, but I think knowing yourself allows me to be more stubborn to the pitches that the pitchers want me to swing at and instead focus on the pitches that I can hit. Going into an at bat, you have an idea of what a pitcher is going to want to do to you. And being stubborn to what you want to do, not what he wants to do, and not swinging at the pitch he wants you to hit, it make it a little easier to lay off those pitches. I think knowing yourself would be the biggest thing that allows me to have a good eye and lay off those pitches. Sometimes I’m like, “I could have hit that pitch, but would I had driven it? Would I have done the damage that I hope to do with that? Probably not.” So I’m okay with going to a 2-2 count.

Brian Hemminger: I want to switch over to defense, because I’ve read about how hard you work on your defense. Everybody talks about the offense, but I’ve heard that defense is what you work on as much as anything. Now you’re having the best fielding percentage at third base that you’ve ever had in your career by a pretty decent margin this year, but that’s still something mentioned in just about every scouting report. Do you feel like you’re starting to turn the corner defensively?

Nolan Jones: Absolutely. I feel more comfortable at third base than I’ve ever felt. I mean, you said it, I’m not sure how you know that, but I put in the work every single day. I’m someone that, I’m not satisfied with being a good baseball player. I want to be one of the best someday. So I’m out there working every single day. A lot of the errors earlier in the year for me, I could have eliminated very easily by a simple extra step or a simple adjustment in my throwing. That’s something that that bothers me and I don’t want to ever see happen. Offensively, it’s not as much of where if I do something wrong, it hurts a certain person. Now if I do something wrong on defense, I hurt the pitcher. The pitcher has to throw more pitches. Sometimes the pitcher gives up runs and the team obviously can lose from that. And that’s something that I don’t want to ever happen. I don’t ever want a pitcher to see me out there and think, “oh boy, here we go.”

That’s something I work harder than anybody I know at. I’m going to be one of the best defenders that a pitcher could have behind him and I want pitchers to want me behind them. That’s something I put my mind to every single day, find a way that I can get better, and I can. There’s something I can always get better on and I know that. So every single day I go to the field, I do my best to find something to work on that day. And that’s kind of my mentality and going into the game, I’m more comfortable over at third base, but I think there’s still so much more work to be done. There’s balls that I’m a half inch away from right now that are hits against our pitchers that one day I hope to make that play.

Brian Hemminger: I heard that Will Benson’s your best friend in the system. So how has it been these last couple weeks getting to play with him again, and also watching him kind of have this breakout season that he’s had, being I think the first 20/20 player in all the minor league baseball this year?

Nolan Jones: He’s one of the one of the best guys I know. And as a teammate, he’s one of the best you can get. He is there for his guys. And he wants to see you succeed as much as he wants himself to succeed, and I think that’s something that’s really special about him. Yeah, the 20/20 year this year, that’s obviously incredible for him. He is one of the hardest workers in the world so to see his success this year is something I’m really happy for him. He deserves it more than more than anyone. He works every single day, day in and day out, harder than you could imagine, so I’m super happy for him. And to have him on my team at this point is really exciting, because he obviously was down about how his season went last year. And it was something that we talked about that we’d be together, we’d be playing together again, so I’m really happy for him.

Brian Hemminger: This is totally unfair. But I’ve heard a few people compare you to Jim Thome. Have you ever heard that comparison before, being a left-handed prospect coming up as a third baseman with power potential, and a really patient approach at the plate?

Nolan Jones: I have heard it, but like you said, I don’t think it’s fair. I mean, he’s a Hall of Famer. It’s an honor to hear that. But I’m gonna have to talk to him this weekend at the Futures Game.

Brian Hemminger: That’s what I was getting to. How cool is it that he’s gonna be your coach this weekend? Getting to work and train under him?

Nolan Jones: It’s something you dream about it as a kid. I mean, it’s going to be very special. And I’m not gonna lie. I’ve already written down questions that I have to ask. I’m really excited.

Brian Hemminger: Did you have any, like, specific goals that you want to do accomplish in 2019?

Nolan Jones: There’s obviously, I can’t lie when I say I don’t look forward to things, and I put things on my plate that are too big for me to handle, but I don’t make specific goals in terms of numbers. I think that’s something that really affects the way you play if you’re thinking about, “I want to hit 20 home runs this year,” that’s not a healthy way to approach the season. But I definitely had goals and I still do that I want to reach. And obviously, looking looking into the future is a good way to approach something that you have to do every single day. I have to go out there planning to be better where I’m at every single day. And that’s kind of the approach I’m taking to the season. They have a plan for me. They know what they want with me. So I just have to go out and give 100% every single day and those things will take care of themselves.

Nolan would like to thank his family who he’s looking forward to seeing at the Futures Game. You can follow him on Twitter @Nolan_Jones10.