Written by: Zac Volland (@5Tool_Baseball)
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Every year as Spring Training approaches, I like to dig my heels in and try to find an underrated prospect who I believe will explode onto the scene that season.
Last season, I did whatever I could to land Juan Soto in my keeper and dynasty leagues. Needless to say, it paid off.
M-Rod told me to look into Indians third base prospect Nolan Jones before the end of the 2018 season. I was well aware of his numbers from Low-A and High-A, but I did some digging and watched some tape.
Jones is a stud, and one of the more underrated prospects in all of baseball.
Selected by Cleveland in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft, the third baseman didn’t waste any time making his presence felt during his first tastes of pro ball, posting a combined 153 wRC+ between Rookie Ball and Short Season-A in his first two summers as a professional. At 6’4 and 185 pounds, Jones certainly looks like the part of a big-time prospect with frame still left to be filled. Relative to his size, Jones is pretty athletic and moves well laterally. Defensively, the 20-year-old has soft hands and is capable of making the majority of the plays that come his way. While there has been some debate focused on his future defensive position, I think Jones will remain at the hot corner at the big league level without much of an issue.
Offensively, Jones is a left-handed masher. In the box, he looks loose and comfortable. His hands load deliberately and he lands soft on his front side. As he begins his swing, he explodes without trying to over-swing and doesn’t appear to use the “maximum effort” approach. The mechanism and path are both a little long, which certainly factored into Jones striking out in 25.2% of his plate appearances last season. However, the ball jumps off the bat, and he doesn’t struggle at all with taking the ball the other way. Just look at the third baseman’s arousing spray chart from last season (plotting each of Jones’s 121 hits), which was originally tweeted by @indiansPro
The full season numbers support the tale of the tape. In his first full season, Jones slashed .283/.405/.466 with 19 home runs in 519 plate appearances between Low-A and High-A. The scary part of the 20-year-old’s offensive profile is also what could take Jones to the next level of his standing amongst prospects: there’s a lot of power still in the tank.
When you pair the all-fields approach and potential for 25-30 home run campaigns with Jones’s elite eye (17.1% walk rate last season), we have three crucial ingredients that often help form elite prospects.
The next step in Jones’s development will likely be attempting to lower the strikeout rate without stripping the third baseman of too much of his raw power. He also slashed only .186/.307/.299 versus left-handed pitching last season, which needs to be rectified for Jones to ever reach his gaudy potential. All things considered, we’d probably live with a 25.0 K% and a moderate struggle against LHP from Jones if it meant we get to reap the benefits of a .270/.380/.460 slash with north of 20 home runs annually at the big league level.
With Jose Ramirez anchored to third base in Cleveland, we might see the Indians take the slow approach to Jones’s development in 2019. That would mean the 20-year-old would likely begin the season back in High-A, with a promotion to Double-A occurring sometime this summer. It’s also possible decision makers view the third baseman’s 130 plate appearances at High-A last season suffice for someone with Jones’s skillset, and opt to place their top prospect in Double-A to begin the 2019 season.
Either way, now is likely your last chance to lay claim on Jones’s stock before paying the price a top-25 prospect demands.
Follow P365 contributor Zac Volland on Twitter! @5Tool_Baseball
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Ken Inness and MiLB.com