Based on ZiPS projections, Nolan Jones is expected to finish 2021 with the following stats:
566 PA, 24 HR, 5 SB, 12.0 BB%, 31.6 K%, .232/.329/.429, 96 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR
Read what our writers think, then vote in the poll below and drop your own opinions in the comments and on the Let’s Go Tribe Discord.
Matt Lyons’s Prediction: OVER
Files this prediction under “I want to believe.”
Of course, there is no chance that Nolan Jones will start the season in the majors on Opening Day — let’s not be naive. Would he be the team’s third or fourth-best hitter at worst and help get them a few extra wins in a year where each victory could mean making or missing the playoffs? Maybe. But when you might be a competitive team in five years instead of four you just gotta hold him down a little extra longer to get that extra year. Baseball, baby.
When he does work on his defense conveniently up to the moment the team has secured an extra year of service time, I think he can outperform 2.0 fWAR anyway. He won’t get nearly 600 plate appearances as ZiPS suggests, but I think he has a chance to out-slash .232/.392/.429 by a wide margin, thanks to some spicy tools at his disposal.
Scouts praise Jones’s eye at the plate, with Eric Longenhagen suggesting he had the best discipline in all of the minors last year. Or, would have, if there was a minor-league season last year. You get the idea.
From FanGraphs’ top-100 prospects list, where Jones ranked 32nd overall:
Not only does he have big raw power, but Jones has perhaps the best strike zone discipline in the entire minor leagues. He ran a 20% walk rate across a 100-game sample as a 21-year-old at Hi-A, then posted a 14.7% rate at Double-A (he had turned 22 by then) to wrap up 2019.
A good eye at the plate is not technically one of the five scouting tools, but it sounds like Jones’s would grade as elite if it was. Pair that with his 70-grade raw power, and you can see where the excitement has been building for him as he’s passed through the minors at an advanced age.
ZiPS has also projected Jones to be a decent bat for two years in a row now. By its approximation, Nolan Jones could have debuted last season and still been one of the team’s best position players. If put in the outfield from day one, he might have helped that core finish with a wOBA higher than the .255 they had in 2020 — ahead of only the Pirates’ .240 wOBA as an outfield group.
When Jones does come up, he’ll make a perfect platoon partner for Jordan Luplow. He may not need to platooned long-term (and he may not even need to be right away), but Terry Francona loves his platoons. If Jones does get put in the outfield out of the gate, it’s a match that might be too good to ignore given his struggles against lefties in the minors. At least for 2021, it could help him hit better than a full-season projection might think.
Maybe not facing real Triple-A pitchers for a year has slowed Nolan Jones down, or maybe more one-on-one instruction at the alternate site helped put the finishing touches on a mostly polished, 22-year-old bat. We’ll find out in a couple of months.
Blake Ruane’s Prediction: UNDER
I have a question for ZiPS: 566 plate appearances? In this economy?
I will be gobsmacked if Nolan Jones has 566 big league plate appearances by season’s end. I can’t even say for sure when he’ll take his first big league at-bat. For starters, he is blocked at third base by American League MVP candidate José Ramírez. What about the outfield, you ask? Well, manager Terry Francona said Tuesday that Jones will start spring training at third base, conceding only that they may decide to move him “at some point.” If they were desperate to get him on the field, he’d be getting reps in the outfield early and often.
Remember 2016? It feels like ages ago, and I frequently have to remind myself that José Ramírez spent 48 games in left field that season. That was less about getting Ramírez at-bats and more about filling the gap in left field left vacant by an injured Michael Brantley, but I wish Francona was willing to take a similar risk today to bolster a lineup that could use Jones’ lumber. Yandy Díaz was in a similar spot once and I hope Jones avoids a similar fate.
Alas, Cleveland is likely to stick with some combination of Eddie Rosario, Josh Naylor, Jordan Luplow, Oscar Mercado, Daniel Johnson, and maybe even Franmil Reyes in the outfield, at least for the 2021 season. And I don’t see Ramírez moving from third. Jones played shortstop in high school and a few games at the position in rookie ball, but Cleveland has another logjam there with Amed Rosario, Andrés Giménez, and Yu Chang.
Honestly, Jones’s best chance to get the call-up sooner rather than later is probably an injury, but I’m not about to wish that on anyone. Instead, I think I’ll wish for Francona to have a spiritual awakening in the coming months and remember that risks can get beget rewards.
Will Nolan Jones finish 2021 with an fWAR over or under 2.0?
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