Sunday Notes: Nolan Jones Hopes To Turn 4 O’Clock Into 7 O’Clock in Colorado

Nolan Jones might be ready to break out in Colorado, and turning 4 o’clock into 7 o’clock is how he would go about doing it. His time in Cleveland over — the Rockies acquired the rangy 6-foot-4 outfielder from the Guardians earlier this week in exchange for Juan Brito — Jones heads west with a swing that is, by his own admission, compact in the cage and too long in the batter’s box. Striking an effective balance between the two is an ongoing goal and a key to his future success.

“I’ve got really long levers, so I’m trying to simplify my moves and make them more efficient,” Jones told me earlier this summer. “Like anybody else, my moves become bigger in the game, and when your limbs are long, a two-inch move in the cage can become a six-inch move. My swings in the cage are those toned-down moves. I’m trying to be shorter to where, when they get bigger in the game, they’re right where I want them to be.”

Reaching his potential has been a frustrating endeavor for the 24-year-old. Selected in the second round of the 2016 draft out of Philadelphia’s Holy Ghost Preparatory School, Jones has ranked as Cleveland’s top prospect multiple times, and he was No. 51 in our Top 100 as recently as the spring of 2021. What has largely held him back is a penchant to swing-and-miss, a trait that accompanied him to the big leagues this season. Along with a .244/.309/.372 slash line over 94 plate appearances, the rookie had a 33% strikeout rate and a worst-on-the-club 71.6% Z-contact rate. Given the Guardians’ preference for hitters who can consistently put the ball in play, Jones no longer fitting into their plans comes as no surprise.

It’s understandable that his left-handed stroke won’t remain exactly the same when going from a controlled environment to facing high-octane heat in front of tens of thousands of fans. For Jones, the needs-to-be-bridged difference can be seen in his mechanics.

“There’s not as much rotation in my swing when I’m in the cage,” explained Jones. “Something that I’ve struggled with is over-rotation from my lower half — my front hip tends to fly out — which messes up my timing. I’ve been working to keep that steady. I have to find ways to use my body to my advantage, rather than having it produce a long swing. Ultimately, I need to be able to put my body in a good position at seven o’clock.”

Brito, the 21-year-old second baseman who went from Colorado to Cleveland in exchange for Jones, has a far different swing profile. According to our lead prospect analyst, Eric Longenhagen, the 5-foot-11 switch-hitter is compact with “terrific feel for contact.” No, 15 in our Rockies rankings prior to the trade, Brito had a 14.3% strikeout rate and a 130 wRC+ with Low-A Fresno this season.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Jazz Chisholm Jr. is 6 for 15 against Charlie Morton.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 1 for 8 against Jarrod Parker.

Peanuts Lowrey went 2 for 20 against Monk Dubiel.

Vince DiMaggio went 0 for 16 against Dizzy Dean.

Van Lingle Mungo went 2 for 6 against Paul Gillespie.

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Jackson Merrill has a just-win attitude and a gap-to-gap hitting approach to go along with his high ceiling. No. 22 on our Top 100 Prospects list, the 19-year-old shortstop in the San Diego Padres system is a self-described “barrel-to-ball kind of guy,” and one of his favorite players growing up was Dustin Pedroia.

The 27th-overall pick in last year’s draft doesn’t feel that the former Red Sox stalwart is a good comp for his own tool box, but he does expect to hit for a similar amount of power — if not more. Pedroia averaged 14 home runs annually during his nine-year prime in Boston, and the youngster sees himself growing into a more-impactful hitter than many have projected.

“I displayed some raw power throughout the season,” opined Merrill, who went deep six times in 250 plate appearances — a broken wrist cost him two months — mostly with Low-A Lake Elsinore. “I’ve shown more than people thought I had, and while I’m mostly just trying to get everything on the barrel, I can definitely drive the ball. I’m also looking to get stronger, so I expect to have more power next year.”

His overall numbers in his first full professional season were impressive. The Baltimore-area native slashed .339/.395/.511 with a 135 wRC+, and his strikeout rate was a built-for-contact 17.6%. But while his left-handed stroke remains geared for hitting line drives, he’s also filling out his frame. When I spoke to him during the Arizona Fall League, the 6-foot-3 Merrill told me that he now weighs just north of 200 pounds.

Pedroia is a good bit smaller than that, which is a big reason that Merrill feels he compares better — hard-nosed mentality aside — to other players. One comp that he’s heard recently raised my eyebrows. Told who it was, my response was, “Corey Seager has good pop.”

“That’s true,” responded Merrill. “But when Seager was 19, he probably had the same amount as me.”

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A quiz:

Carl Yastrzemski has the most plate appearances (13,992) and at-bats (11,988) in Boston Red Sox franchise history. The same player ranks second in both categories. Who is it?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Miami Marlins promoted Caroline O’Connor to President of Business Operations. With Kim Ng in place as General Manager, the Marlins are the first U.S. men’s major sports franchise to have women serving simultaneously in those roles.

The Minnesota Twins have promoted Alex Hassan to Vice President of Hitting Development and Procurement. Hassan spent the three previous seasons as Director of Player Development. Drew MacPhail will move into Hassan’s old role.

Glenn Geffner won’t be returning to the Miami Marlins radio booth next season. The veteran broadcaster, who began calling games for the N.L. East club in 2008, was informed earlier this week that his contract won’t be renewed.

Ballpark Digest named Adam Marco its Minor League Broadcaster of the Year. The Mercyhurst University alum is the radio play-by-play voice of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Chuck Carr, an outfielder for five teams — most notably the Florida Marlins — from 1990-1997, died last weekend at age 55. A speedster who swiped 58 bases in 1993, Carr homered off of John Smoltz in his last ever MLB plate appearance, which came in Game 3 the 1997 NLDS.

Jack Reed, an outfielder who appeared in 222 games for the New York Yankees across the 1961-1963 seasons, died earlier this month at age 89. The Silver City, Mississippi native’s lone big-league home run was a 22nd-inning game-winner off of Detroit’s Phil Regan in the longest game ever played at Tiger Stadium.

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The answer to the quiz is Dwight Evans, with 10,240 plate appearances and 8,726 at-bats.

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Tyler Kepner’s The Grandest Stage: A History of the World Series — a must-read for serious baseball fans — includes a perspective on MLB’s ever-growing postseason field. It comes via longtime executive Billy Beane, who has been the chief decision-maker for the small-market Oakland Athletics for close to three decades.

“More often than not, it’s going to work in our favor,” Beane told Kepner in 2019. “As a smaller team, us and the Rays would prefer randomness to determine it, because a team like the Dodgers, Astros, or Yankees is usually going to be more powerful. So the more teams you add, the more random it’s going to be.”

The Athletics announced on Friday that Beane would be stepping down as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and moving into a senior advisor role.

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Joel Goldberg expressed related postseason thoughts when he appeared as a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio. They came in response to my asking the Kansas City Royals broadcaster/reporter if the team he covers could emerge as next year’s 2022 Cleveland Guardians.

“It’s possible, sure,” responded Goldberg. “But a lot is going to have to go right. There are certain teams in baseball that have that margin of error [and] it’s hard to compare Kansas City to a big-market team. If Boston wants to turn things around next year, they could go all in. It doesn’t guarantee that they’ll do it, but they could throw all their money at that. That’s not going to happen here, so you’ve got to get everything right. Cleveland seems to have gotten everything right last year. But look at a market like St. Louis, where they get just enough right, every single year, that a bad year is still above .500 and [they are] battling for the playoffs. That’s where [the Royals] want to get to.

“Who is the dominant force in the American League Central?,” continued Goldberg. “This division is wide open for the taking, and I don’t mean necessarily in 2023. Who of these five teams is going to build a sustainable group that can sit there and knock on the playoff door every single year?”

With a relatively new ownership group, recent changes in both the GM and manager positions, and a number of talented young players on the roster, there is a good chance that team will be the Royals. A very good chance.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Matt Davidson has reportedly signed with NPB’s Hiroshima Toyo Carp. The 31-year-old corner infielder (and sometimes pitcher) played with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics this season.

Lee Jung-Hoo was a near-unanimous winner of the KBO’s MVP award, garnering 104 of the 107 votes cast. Per @sung_minkim, the 24-year-old Kiwoom Heroes outfielder will be posting-eligible after next season.

Former big-league infielder Pete Kozma has 11 hits in 31 at-bats with the Australian Baseball League’s Perth Heat. Former big-league outfielder Josh Reddick is 5 for 30 with the ABL club.

Nick Ward is off to a 13-for-29 start with the ABL’s Adelaide Giants. The 27-year-old former Oakland Athletics farmhand had a 1.048 OPS in 82 games with the independent Frontier League’s Washington Wild Things this past season.

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Colson Montgomery is the top prospect in a Chicago White Sox farm system that ranks fourth from the bottom among the 30 teams. The 20-year-old shortstop is also the organization’s lone representative in our Top 100, which adds even more importance to his developmental future.

Based on his first full professional season, that future looks bright. In a season that began at Low-A Kannapolis and finished at Double-A Birmingham, Montgomery put up a 125 wRC+ while slashing .274/.381/.429 with 11 home runs in 421 plate appearances.

I recently asked White Sox GM Rick Hahn about the 2021 first-rounder out of Huntington, Indiana’s Southridge High School. More specifically, I asked about his positional future.

“We view him as a shortstop,” Hahn said of the the 6-foot-4, 205-pound infielder. “He’s very young, but we project him to be damn fine major-league shortstop. Keep in mind, he’s one year out of high school, and wound up finishing the year in Double-A for us. He’s got confidence and smoothness in the way he goes about his game, both offensively and defensively. It’s very impressive, especially when you mix in how young he is, baseball-wise and in chronological age.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Japan Times, Jason Coskrey wrote about how NPB superstar Munetaka Murakami has his sights on bigger things, including MLB.

At The Tampa Bay Times, Marc Topkin talked to former Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels about his new role with the Rays.

Twins Daily’s Jamie Cameron feels that Mitch Haniger would be an ideal free-agent bat for the Minnesota Twins to bring on board.

Dave Battagello wrote about the fifth annual Canadian Baseball History Conference for the Windsor (Ontario) Star.

Our Esquina’s Manuel Gómez wrote about how Sandy Alcantara winning the N.L Cy Young award is a Dominican Achievement.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Pittsburgh Pirates franchise has had two seasons with 100 or more wins, the most recent being 1909. They have had 10 seasons with 100 or more losses, including the last two.

Hall of Fame second baseman Tony Lazzeri scored 986 runs and accumulated 2,938 total bases. Jose Altuve has scored 986 runs, and has 2,948 total bases.

Willie Stargell had 4,190 total bases and 1,540 RBIs.
Willie McCovey had 4,219 total bases and 1,555 RBIs.
Fred McGriff had 4,458 total bases and 1,550 RBIs.

Ty Cobb had more stolen bases than strikeouts in 16 of his 24 seasons.

Warren Spahn had 363 hits and 363 wins. Christy Mathewson had 362 hits and 373 wins.

Paul Derringer went 7-27 pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals (0-2) and Cincinnati Reds (7-25) in 1933. He went 25-7 with the Reds in 1939.

The Minnesota Twins released Earl Battey on today’s date in 1967, effectively ending the veteran catcher’s career. One of the best backstops in franchise history, Battey made four All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves.

On today’s date in 1955, Carroll Hardy caught two touchdown passes from Y.A. Tittle in the San Francisco 49ers’ 27-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Five years later, Hardy became the only player to pinch-hit for Ted Williams.

Players born on today’s date include the late Ron Cash, a corner infielder/outfielder who played in 34 games for the Detroit Tigers in the 1973 and 1974 seasons. The Atlanta, Georgia native was the uncle of Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash.

Also born on today’s date was Rugger Ardizoia, whose big-league career comprised one pitching appearance for the New York Yankees in 1947. Born in Oleggio, Italy and raised in San Francisco, the right-hander allowed two runs in as many innings against the St. Louis Browns.





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.

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tz
2 months ago

Probably the biggest issue for Jones is maintaining the (relative) success he’s had against LHP the past two years in the minors. It’s too bad the Rockies have perpetual delusions of contention, since he’ll probably be limited to a platoon role with the big league club.

(Assuming, of course, that the Rox don’t bury him in AAA after they sign Bogaerts or Abreu to play RF).

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  tz

It would be a real shame if they kept him blocked by Grichuk and Bryant. They might, if everyone stays healthy.

If they actually play him every day I think this could be a really big win for the Rockies. He showed far more range than expected in the outfield so I think he could handle RF in CO. I think the Guardians probably made a mistake here since I don’t really but Gonzalez doing anything like what he did in 2022 again, and the various Wills are unproven, as is Valera. I think there’s a pretty good chance Jones would be better than all or most of them.

fjtorres
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

You may be overvaluing Jones a bit because of his power potentisl.
And undervaluing Valera for his age. Odds are, though, he will be the most useful of the bunch.

As to the “Wills” Benson is at some risk but Brennan is part of the reason Jones is in Colorado. He might be part of a CF platoon to start 23.

The rest of the Jones trade is positional: 3B belongs to Ramirez and in the OF he ranks third, possibly fourth as Valera should be ready by may and can play CF.

Cleveland could have kept Jones but to what end? 5th OF? The ABs wouldn’t be there in 23. Brito is younger and profiles well for 23/24. And Jones still deserves a shot at a full time job.

Trades don’t always have to be about fleecing the other team. Also Cleveland has been known to move useful players to get them a better opportunity to stick. Colorado should give Jones a long look at both rf and 3B which is his natural position to see if he can tame his swing. They have ABs aplenty.

Hopefully both teams will do okay.

Last edited 2 months ago by fjtorres