Former Guardians top third base prospect and current CTC No. 6 prospect Nolan Jones, 24, is expected to make his major league debut later tonight against the Kansas City Royals.
Now, most readers here at Covering the Corner are pretty big fans of Jones, or they were before injuries and inconsistent performance sidelined him last season, but what do those who are paid to take a professional look at young talent think of him?
Let’s get started with earlier in his minor league career. Jones was a second-round pick by the Guardians in the 2016 draft, so he entered his professional baseball career with a pretty high profile. Here’s what scouts have had to say about him from the time he was drafted to present day:
Guardians Director of Amateur Scouting Brad Grant - MLB.com (June. 2016)
“He’s a very good hitter. He’s a guy who we feel is going to hit with power as well in the future. He has a plus arm — solid fielder. He’s another guy with really good makeup as well. He’s a guy that we spent a whole lot of time with.”
Jones made an immediate impact in his first half-season at Low-A Mahoning Valley, where he put up a 171 wRC+, slashing .317/.430/.482 over 62 games. It didn’t take long for him to gain some national recognition.
MLB Pipeline (2018)
“A left-handed hitter, Jones combines bat speed with a fluid stroke and natural feel for the barrel to generate hard contact across the field. He knows how to get on base, too, showing advanced plate discipline and an age-defying approach that helped him lead the NY-PL in both walks (43) and OBP as a teenager. And while Jones’ impressive raw power has yet to translate during games, scouts do expect him to develop above-average power as he adds strength to his athletic and highly projectable frame and trims some of the swing-and-miss from his game.”
Jones’ power showed up in 2018 in his first taste of full-season ball, where he smashed a total of 19 home runs between Lake County and Lynchburg. As a result, FanGraphs listed him as the No. 1 Cleveland prospect heading into the 2019 season. Eric Longenhagen was intrigued, yet cautious about Jones’ questionable defense.
“Scouts’ opinions about where on the defensive spectrum Jones will end up are all over the map. He got quite big not long after he was drafted and seemed destined for first base, and while there’s still a chance he ends up there eventually, he looked leaner last year and has a better chance of staying at third for a while. Some clubs think he’ll move to right field, and the contact issues Jones has had due to his lever length are problematic if he doesn’t stay at third.
We’re intrigued by the three-true outcomes possibilities here, as Jones already has huge power and might grow into more, and he’s also had some of the higher walk rates in all of the minor leagues. Opposing pitchers are going to have to be careful with him or risk paying a 400 foot price, so we expect his on base ability to hold water at the upper levels. He could reach Double-A Akron as a 21-year-old later in the year if he performs during the spring.”
Following yet another successful season, Jones was named Cleveland’s 2019 Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. Jim Ingraham had high marks for his strike zone recognition.
Baseball America (2019)
“Considered one of the top prep bats in that class, Jones has been exceedingly efficient at getting on base since turning pro. That includes this year when he boasted a .410 on-base percentage through 116 games. That equaled his career mark.
Prior to his July 5 promotion to Double-A Akron, his .435 OBP at high Class A Lynchburg led led the Carolina League by a wide margin, which is why league managers recognized him as having the best strike-zone judgment in Best Tools balloting.
The lefthanded-hitting Jones had hit .275/.410/.443 this season with 14 home runs and 87 walks.
Jones’ performance had been steady year over year. His lowest OBP in pro ball came in his 2016 pro debut, when he reaches 39 percent of the time in the Rookie-level Arizona League.”
After the lost 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic, Jones made his Triple-A debut in 2021. While he was still above average with a 113 wRC+, it was his worst season as a professional, slashing .238/.356/.431 over 99 games. As a result, expectations were lowered entering this season.
“With his bat speed, strength and the leverage in his left-handed swing, Jones has the best raw power in the system — as well as arguably the most patient approach. But he also has batted .243 with a 30 percent whiff rate in two years at the upper levels of the Minors, looking particularly vulnerable against breaking balls and changeups. While his naturally long stroke and willingness to work deep counts always will result in strikeouts, he’ll need to make better contact to hold down an everyday job at third base or on an outfield corner.
Though he possesses below-average speed, Jones is reasonably athletic for his size and has worked hard to become a competent third baseman. His arm strength never has been a question, and he has improved his footwork, agility and range. His arm also fits well in right field, where he has looked like he’ll be at least an adequate defender during his initial exposure there.”
Jones has spent his 2022 season primarily playing right field, although he still could fill in at third base if Jose Ramirez needs a day off and I’ve read that Cleveland believes he also could play first base if possible. It will be interesting to see how his approach works at the MLB level.