Evaluating Nolan Jones’ First Spring Training with the Cleveland Indians
When it comes to the Cleveland Indians – and MLB in general – the future is all we’re left to think about right now. Much of it – when the regular season will start, if the regular season will start – remains up in the air, leaving very little to actually discuss.
However, that isn’t the case with one of the most important pieces of Cleveland’s future, prospect Nolan Jones.
Considered league-wide as one of baseball’s top up-and-comers, Jones just wrapped up his first spring training with the Tribe. With a handful of stats to sift through and baseball currently on hiatus, now seems like as good a time as ever to evaluate the third baseman’s spring debut with Cleveland.
Jones arrived in Arizona with a good deal of fanfare. MLB Pipeline grades him as the Indians’ best prospect, while also ranking him No. 42 on its list of Top 100 prospects in all of baseball. Within his scouting report, the outlet gives high praise to his bat speed, strength and, particularly, his patience at the plate.
While the idea of Jones doing enough to make Cleveland’s opening day roster was a stretch, fans were still eager to see what he could do. To date, he’s spent the bulk of his career playing Single-A ball, having just logged his first stint with Double-A Akron last summer. He boasts a slash line of .283/.409/.448 through 340 games across various minor league tiers.
At first glance, his performance for the Tribe this spring isn’t much to write home about. That said, there were definitely silver linings to note.
Jones finished spring with 19 plate appearances in nine games, slashing .083/.421/.083 with just one hit. Obviously, the batting average and lone single aren’t anything he’ll be bragging about. At the same time, that his OBP was still excellent despite the lack of contact is nothing short of impressive.
This is all thanks to Jones showing off the plate discipline which has become his scouting report staple.
He left Arizona having collected more walks (seven) than any other Tribe hitter. As a result, his OBP ranked sixth among all Indians with at least 15 spring plate appearances.
Jones finishing spring training with a walk rate of 36.8% is certainly encouraging. For one, he saw a drop in this stat after being called up to Double-A last season, as it dipped from 20.0% to 14.7% once he made the leap from Lynchberg to Akron. That his first big league camp didn’t shake up his patience at the plate too much is also a good sign.
Within Jones’ scouting report, though, it’s noted that “his swing and his willingness to work deep counts result in a strikeout rate that has risen as he has climbed through the minors.” This, too, was on display in Arizona.
Jones logged nine K’s this spring, generating a strikeout rate of 47.4%. That this comes after he registered a 29.9% K-rate in Akron – his highest since 2016 – indicates there’s still a little work to be done here.
Again, though, even a phenomenal spring likely wouldn’t have been enough to earn Jones a spot on Cleveland’s roster. Whenever the season starts, he’ll likely find himself in Triple-A at best.
At the same time, he may not be there for long.
Realistically, the longest Jones could wait before making his big league debut is one season. While there's no infield availability for him now, this changes in 2021. Having only signed second baseman Cesar Hernandez to a one-year deal, Cleveland filling his vacancy with Jose Ramirez next year and opening third for Jones certainly doesn’t feel far-fetched.
Still, a 2020 appearance is hardly out of the question. Cleveland could make Jones one of its September call-ups, or an infield injury might create an opportunity for him to step in earlier than that.
Considering he's yet to log his first Triple-A at-bat, it certainly shouldn’t be viewed as a letdown if Jones never makes it up to the majors this season. At 21-years-old, there’s no need to fast-track his development.
That said, getting a spring training invite was a big step for Jones. He was able to show off his trademark plate discipline, but also demonstrated a few things he still needs to tweak.
Should he spend 2020 fixing said issues, it won’t be long before he finds himself in an Indians uniform again.