A quote from Eric Longenhagen is a good way to lead an article on Nolan Jones. Our resident prospect guru wrote the following about Jones, who ranks No. 54 on our recently-released 2020 Top 100 Prospects list:
“Jones is a giant corner infielder with among the best eyes for the strike zone in the minors and some of the most impressive raw power, as well.”
Those platitudes are largely backed up by the numbers. Cleveland’s second-round pick in the 2016 draft stands an imposing 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and his OBP as a professional is an impressive .409. Pairing those attributes with his preponderance of power, Jones projects to have — again per Longenhagen — “among the highest three true outcomes percentages in the big leagues.”
Jones has a solid understanding of his strengths, and a pretty good idea of what he needs to improve upon. And he’s already made some meaningful adjustments since being selected 55th overall out of Philadelphia’s Holy Ghost Prep. In an effort to make his bat path more efficient, Jones has tweaked both his stance and where he holds his hands. The kinetic chain being what it is, one feeds into the other.
“I’m standing more straight up, because I had a little bit of a rock-back when I was loading,” Jones told me yesterday. “That created a flaw. It kind of had me spinning, being too rotational. I’ve also moved my hands up a little bit, because I was loading and getting stuck under my arm. I wasn’t able to turn the barrel over, back over my shoulder, basically. It was here to go here, and now it’s where I get into a loaded [scapula] position without my hands being under my elbow. That’s where I’d been getting stuck.”
The left-handed-hitter arrived at those adjustments mostly through watching video with his coaches. Neither was necessary in order for him to handle High-A and Double-A pitching. They were made with the majors in mind.
“The changes haven’t been about solving things so much they’re about making things better,” said Jones, who posted an .851 OPS last year between Lynchburg and Akron. “They weren’t things I needed to change on the spot. But if you want to compete in the big leagues, you’re going to need to have a lot of crisp moves.”
Asked about his timing mechanism, Jones cited his back hip and a small leg kick. He explained that his first move is to get into his back hip, and from there, “try to ride that out as long as possible.” Depending on his tempo, which is influenced by the pitcher’s tempo, the size of his leg kick will vary. Against someone quick to the plate with his delivery, it’s barely discernible.
His patient approach includes a preference for pitches away. Jones told me that he “likes to attack the outer half of the zone,” in part because that’s where he does the most damage. Recognizing that it’s difficult to cover the entire plate, he primarily focuses away, albeit with the understanding that a pitcher’s tendencies may demand that he look in. As he put it, “I want to stick to my approach, but while we’re always trying to work to our strengths, sometimes we have to work against theirs as well.”
I asked the talented youngster if he could elaborate on why pitches away are to his liking.
“A lot has to do with me being able to get extended out there,” responded Jones, who described his bat path as being relatively flat. “I think you see the ball better on the outside part of the plate, and have more time to react to it. That plays a part in it, and my swing is also a little on the longer side. That helps me handle that pitch better.”
Circling back to the aforementioned adjustments, Jones expressed that he hasn’t really shortened his swing so much as he’s continued to make it more efficient. That work — an ongoing process — has been done both at Rake Baseball Academy, back home in Pennsylvania, and in Goodyear, Arizona where he spent this past offseason under the watchful eye of Indians player development personnel.
Which brings us to this article’s closing quotes. They come courtesy of Chris Antonetti, and largely echo Longenhagen’s synopsis.
“He’s got a great idea of the strike zone and some really good raw power,” Cleveland’s President of Baseball Operations said of Jones. “He’s continuing to develop his contact within the zone, but he’s got a chance to be really productive with his combination of plate discipline and power. Nolan works his tail off, so whatever it is that he’s working on, I’m confident that he’ll continue to make progress.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.