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Nolan Jones has got a thing goin’ on

It’s much too strong to hold him back now

Cleveland Indians Summer Workouts Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

Covering the Corner readers once voted this man the top overall prospect in the Cleveland Guardians system. Baseball America once stated “The sky is the limit, and Jones is reaching for the stars.”

Such rankings and praise are unlikely to matter for Nolan Jones very much longer as he is now a Major League Baseball Player with the Cleveland Guardians.

Throughout his minor league career, Jones displayed excellent plate discipline. His walk rate never dipped far below 15% for a full season, and reached as high as 20% during his time in High-A. Jones still isn’t considered a contact bat by scouts — for example, FanGraphs still lists his contact ceiling as 35 / 80, which would be considered below average for an MLB regular.

In reality, his .275 career average in the minor leagues and current .311 average at Triple-A suggest contact skills that will be average (at least) at the major-league level. Hook that onto his batting eye and plug in his opposite-field plus power and I believe we’ve assembled a hitter who will scare pitchers for quite some time.

But how often can we expect the Guardians to deploy Jones, and where?

Much of that is up to him. If Jones immediately begins posting a line close to the .260/.400/.450 line that I think is within his reach then he is going to play in the outfield for a very long time. He is also only 24, so there is reason to believe in yet more SLG.

José Ramírez is the main reason that Cleveland transitioned him to the outfield. However, durability may be another. I suspect that right field is a less taxing position than any infield position (excepting first), and Jones hasn’t exactly been injury-free.

Here is a breakdown of Nolan Jones’s positional assignments in the minor leagues (thank you, FanGraphs):

Nolan Jones by position

Season Level Pos G GS Inn
Season Level Pos G GS Inn
2022 AAA LF 2 2 19
2022 AAA RF 20 19 168
2022 AAA DH 1 1 0
2021 AAA 1B 1 1 9
2021 AAA 3B 67 65 567
2021 AAA RF 25 25 213
2019 AA 3B 44 44 378
2019 A+ 3B 72 71 609
2018 A+ 3B 28 27 240.2
2018 A 3B 77 77 667.1
2017 A- 3B 53 51 450
2016 R 3B 28 27 239.1
2016 R SS 5 5 39.2

You will note that Jones rose through the system as a third baseman and then made the switch to outfield (primarily right field) in 2021 upon reaching Triple-A. I expect Jones to be an outfielder almost all of the time as a Cleveland Guardian. He can play any corner position and I expect that he will spell José Ramírez here and there.

I am a little bit out of my depth in assessing his outfielding ability. However, Jones is a terrific all-around athlete. I’m not trying to make him sound like Homestar Runner here; the point is that some folks have a knack for moving with speed, strength, and precision all at once. Jones is one of them, and I think he is going to be fine out there.

Call that a hunch, I guess. There are no widespread reports of him Clint Fraziering — or worse, Cansecoing.

Early Returns

I dare somebody to complain.

In two starts as a right fielder, Jones notched three hits including a double and a dinger. He even drew a walk, why not? I’m going to go ahead and post the video of the home run. It is the first of his career, and you would be hard-pressed to find a first more glorious than this.

The power is very real, you guys.

I anticipate Jones will go through the same cycle of adjustments that Steven Kwan and Oscar Gonzalez are currently navigating. The Grand Strategy Game of pitcher vs. hitter never really ends, but the swings seem to be more extreme for younger players. Especially rookies [citation needed].

I am especially curious to see how Jones adjusts to Major League pitching. Two games is a nice preview, but the real work will unfold over the home stretch of this season. We tend to forget that the final phase of a player’s development occurs at the Major League level. It is also one that needs to be open-ended. Jones strikes me as the kind of player who is likely to savor this process.

It’s exciting. I’m excited. It is a bit remarkable how quickly we went from musing over an Instagram story that simply read “SOON” to shouting about the glory of Jones’s first home run. I hope it continues to be remarkable, and I think it will.