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A Brief Rant About Nolan Jones and Will Benson

Yet another critique of the front office’s handling of these trades

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Yup, we’re relitigating the Jones and Benson trades again. Is this probably overdone? Definitely, but something in watching Jones cap off a 20/20 HR/SB season yesterday and learning that he’s somehow in the 80th percentile for sprint speed broke me and I need to get all this off my chest. Before diving too far in I want to get three things out of the way.

  1. I love Juan Brito. like a whole bunch. I’m not at all upset in the return for Jones, more that I think Brito could’ve been had for a different asset other than Jones.
  2. Everything I’m going to say has nothing to do with whether or not what Jones or Benson have done is sustainable moving forward, this is more of a process conversation.
  3. I don’t believe for a second that the Guardians are “going all in on contact” and “ignoring power production.” But this is an argument for a later article this offseason.

Normally when the front office makes a mistake I can at least see the vision and understand the process. The outcome may not pan out in our favor, but the reasoning behind the move is usually sound. Even in the case of the much maligned Junior Caminero for Tobias Myers swap of a couple years ago, I can see what the thought process was. Nobody could’ve predicted what Caminero would become, he wasn’t even considered our top international free agent signing from the class, Jose Pastrano was. The team had just come off a season where they had to start J.C. Mejia on short rest multiple times and were in desperate need of pitching prospects in the upper levels of the minors. Myers fit that bill as a low ceiling-high floor type of arm that could potentially be a solid stabilizing force in the rotation as early as 2022.

Essentially they traded a 17 year old lottery ticket for a high floor pitching prospect in a system that was light on pitching in the upper levels of the minors. Did it work out? Definitely not. Is there at least a way to justify it when you look at where the org was at the time? Absolutely.

That’s why the Jones and Benson trades are so baffling to me, no matter how hard I look I can’t find a convincing reason to part with those guys so quickly. You can argue to me all you want that they were sold on Oscar Gonzalez and Will Brennan, or that they had put all their eggs in the George Valera basket, but none of those sound like convincing reasons to give up so quickly on these types of prospects.

Normally I’d take this opportunity to dive into underlying metrics to make my case. I’d cite things like batted ball data, chase rates, etc. to say that if you squint real hard at the small sample size they had in Cleveland, you’d see that this was all predictable. In this case, I have no intention of citing statistics to make my case. I certainly could, but I don’t need to. Instead, I’m going to make my argument based on things that would make Jonah Hill’s character in Moneyball cringe.

So what do we know about Jones and Benson?

Will Benson is listed at 6’5” 235 lbs and is one of the most freakish athletes I’ve ever seen on a baseball field. In fact Multiple players in the Guardians’ system have called Will Benson the “best athlete I’ve ever seen.” In addition to absurd raw power, Benson is in the 88th percentile for sprint speed in all of baseball, patently absurd for a person of his stature. Benson looks like the type of guy that could easily have played in the NFL had he chosen football over baseball. Just a physical specimen in every sense of the word. Coupled with his natural charisma and the fact that everyone who has ever played with him has raved about his work ethic and the type of teammate he is, and the picture starts to emerge of a future star.

Nolan Jones certainly isn’t quite the athlete that Benson is, but don’t sell him short. The former hockey standout is listed at 6’4” 200 lbs and is also one of the fastest players in the game (80th percentile for speed). 80th percentile may not sound that high, but considering the fact that Jasson Dominguez, a player literally referred to as “the martian” for his absurd athleticism, is slower than him, it’s pretty high. Jones also has some serious power, you may chalk some of his production up to playing in Colorado, but that wouldn’t be a fair assessment of Jones. Of his 20 home runs this season, 7 have traveled over 445 feet, those are absolute bombs, Coors or not. He also has multiple outfield assists over 100 mph this season.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, for both Jones and Benson arguably their best trait is actually their plate discipline and patience.

So what’s the point in bringing all of this up?

It’s a cautionary tale, plain and simple. Benson and Jones are the type of players where you walk onto the field at a showcase and you can just tell by the way that they move that they can play. You watch them hit, run, and throw and your jaw hits the floor in amazement. When you draw up what superstars look like, it’s those two. Do those guys always pan out? Of course not. Baseball history is riddled with physical specimens who couldn’t crack the Mendoza line. However, that’s true of all prospects regardless of stature.

With prospects like Jones and Benson, their profiles are so rare that until they unequivocally prove that they can’t play, they should be given the opportunity to prove that they can. I’m of the belief that when you get a 6’4”-6’5” guy who can run like a gazelle, has a howitzer for an arm, and can hit it to the moon you give him a MINIMUM of 500 plate appearances before you give up on him. This is especially true when they have the type of plate discipline that makes it so they can still be productive even when they are in a slump.

Jones and Benson received 155 plate appearances in Cleveland. Not each, total. As I’ve said before, I’m generally a defender of the front office, I can usually see what their vision is and there’s usually really good process behind their decision making. This is one of the rare cases where I just can’t find the arguments for what they did, at least not compelling ones.

Unfortunately this was the choice that was made and we have to live with it, it’s the nature of being a baseball fan. Thank God we still have Chase DeLauter.