With CTC No. 6 prospect Nolan Jones expected to make his debut tonight against the Kansas City Royals, the talented 24-year-old third baseman/outfielder will finish a long and wild journey through the Guardians’ minor league system that began over five years ago.
Taken No. 55 overall in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Jones fell due to signing concerns, so Cleveland gave him over $1 million over his slot value. He signed July 1, 2016, and made his professional debut July 6, 2016, walking twice in four plate appearances against the AZL Dodgers.
The Guardians were patient with Jones at first, beginning at half-season Low-A Mahoning Valley in 2017. That was when Jones truly began to shine. Over 62 games that season, Jones sported a .317/.430/.482 slash and posted what remains a career-best 172 wRC+. Baseball America named him to its short-season All-Star team.
Entering 2018, Jones’ stock was on the rise. MLB Pipeline had him listed as Cleveland’s No. 4 overall prospect and he made his full-season debut at (then) Single-A Lake County. He garnered a Midwest League Player of the Week award while slashing .279/.393/.464 over 90 games as a 20-year-old, eventually earning a promotion to (then) High-A Lynchburg. After much anticipation, his power began to arrive in 2018. Jones blasted 16 home runs at Lake County and an additional three homers after being promoted to Lynchburg. Jones was named an organizational All-Star by MiLB.com following the 2018 season.
The rocket strapped to Jones’ back truly began to take off in 2019. He began the year at (then) High-A Lynchburg, slashing .286/.435/.425 over 77 games. He was named to the MLB Futures Game roster (which was played in Cleveland) and also was a Carolina League All-Star. After his appearance in the All-Star games, he was promoted to Double-A, where he impressed over his final 49 games, posting a 147 wRC+. Jones again was named an organizational All-Star for 2019 by MiLB.com. He played in the Arizona Fall League in 2019, where he also was named to the Rising Stars team, although he aggravated a thumb injury that required surgery in October of 2019.
Then 2020 happened.
The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 minor league season and Jones pretty much lost a year of development. While he did spend time at the team’s alternate training site and was able to witness his buddy Triston McKenzie’s MLB debut from the walkway above the home run porch, it wasn’t a great replacement for a season.
When Jones finally returned and made his Triple-A debut for the 2021 season, he got off to an extremely rough start, striking out in 20 of his first 43 plate appearances while collecting just three hits.
Jones eventually settled in at Triple-A, posting a 126 wRC+ for every game played after those first two weeks. He even stole a career-high 10 bases before an ankle injury ended his season in late August.
A back injury delayed Jones’ 2022 debut, but once he arrived, he did so in style. Jones has been sensational this season, shifting exclusively to the outfield after Jose Ramirez’s extension made his chances of playing third base obsolete. In 23 games thus far this year, Jones is slashing an impressive .311/.417/.500 with 21 runs scored and 25 RBIs. He’s also posting an elite 15.7% walk rate while dropping his strikeout rate by almost four percentage points.
His time is now, folks.