The Cleveland Indians drafted Nolan Jones out of Holy Ghost Prep near Philadephia in the second round of the 2016 draft. A top 20 draft prospect, Jones signed for $2.5 million, which was more than $1 million over slot value and made him one of the most expensive non-first round picks. Originally a shortstop, he moved to third base due in large part to his size as he’s listed at 6’3″ and 195 pounds though I’ve seen him listed at 6’4″ as well (and he definitely looks more the latter in person). The 19-year-old bats from the left-side and spent all of 2017 at Short-Season Mahoning Valley.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Nolan Jones came into the organization as a player whose bat was supposed to carry him and through two seasons that’s been the case. For a teenager, he has a very good eye at the plate as seen by his walk rates that have approached 17-percent over two years. That’s Carlos Santana in his prime kind of numbers. What really stood out for Jones in 2017 was that not only did he continue to walk at a great click (his 46 walks led the New York-Penn League), but he reduced his strikeout rate from a nauseating 36-percent in 2016 to a very livable 22-percent this past year.
The decrease in the strikeouts showed up in his slash line as well as his batting average rose from .257 to .317 and his on-base percentage rose from an already great .388 to a league-best .430 this past summer. Jones also led the league in OPS (.912), which was impressive considering he was one of the youngest hitters in the league.
Jones also added more power in 2017, improving his ISO from a mere .083 to .165. He still only hit four home runs and needs to work on turning his “raw power”‘ into game power, but he did have 18 doubles and three triples. While he did leg out those triples, he’ll never be a burner in the field or on the bases despite the long legs but he does have average speed.
Defensively he’s still a work in progress at third base. He has a plus arm and is athletic but it remains to be seen if he’ll have the lateral movement to stick at the position longterm. He reminds me a lot of a young Lonnie Chisenhall (both the swing and defensively), and I would assume the Cleveland Indians would stick with Jones at third as long as they can, similar to Chisenhall. Jones, like Chisenhall, has enough speed and athletic ability to move to the outfield should the need arise.
Where does he go from here?
Nolan Jones was my favorite player drafted in 2016 and had they taken him 14th overall over Will Benson I’d have had no qualms about the pick. He will be linked for the foreseeable future with Benson in the Cleveland Indians’ system as the two appear to be on similar career tracks. Like Benson, Jones should see his first full-season action in 2018 at Lake County.
Jones could potentially reach Advanced-A Lynchburg in 2018 if the Tribe wants to try and be aggressive with him. If he shows the drop in strikeouts is legit then he’s the type of bat that could move up the system at a slightly quicker than one-stop-per-year rate. If not for some uncertainty with his position (there’s still a chance he ends up at first base or designated hitter) and the lack of home run power shown he’d be a top three guy in this system for me. Keith Law recently ranked him as such and also had him as the 80th best prospect in baseball (Insider subscription required).
In a perfect world, Jones would be the starting third baseman for the Cleveland Indians by 2022 (or sooner), hitting near the top or middle of the lineup with .380-plus OBP and 20-plus home runs, potentially the next Carlos Santana. He has the prettiest left-handed swing I’ve seen in the system in a while but as with any teenager, there is a lot of risks. However, guys that can walk like that and hit tend to find their ways to the big leagues, one way or another.