Coming in at number 6 on our Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospect countdown is our top rated 2016 draftee, third baseman Nolan Jones.
Who is Nolan Jones?
While Nolan Jones was not the first player the Cleveland Indians drafted this past summer, he comes in as our highest rated of all the 2016 draft picks. Drafted in the second round (55th overall), Jones signed for $2.25 million, which was more than $1 million over slot value and made him one of only five players drafted outside of the first round to get over $2 million.
He was drafted out of Holy Ghost Preparatory High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which has led yours truly to dub him with the nickname Nolan “Holy Ghost” Jones (jury is still out if it’ll stick).
Jones was already 18 years old when he was drafted (his birthday is in May). He is a big kid too, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 185 pounds. He played shortstop in high school and while he did play a couple of games there this summer, the Indians moved him to third base upon signing in July. He bats from the left-side and spent the summer with the Tribe’s Arizona Rookie Level.
Strengths and Weaknesses
For a high school draft pick, Jones joined the Cleveland Indians with a pretty advanced approach at the plate. Baseball America rated him as one of the best pure hitters in the draft among high schoolers and the best pure hitter the Tribe drafted in 2016. He has a very sweet swing from the left-side and hit .257 in his first pro season.
Most impressive though was his ability to get on base, posting a .388 on-base percentage, which was the seventh highest in the Arizona Rookie League (minimum 130 plate appearances) and the third highest among teenagers in the league.
Jones got on base thanks to his ridiculously good walk rate of 17.2 percent, which ranked second best in the league (min 130 PA), behind only Kyle Nowlin, who is four years older than Jones. He’s great at working counts, though that did get him into some trouble this summer as he did strike out a whopping 36.2 percent of the time.
It’s not something many are worried about at this point and likely can just be chalked up to small sample size (134 plate appearances) and the difficult transition from high school to the professional level.
Jones didn’t display much power this summer, hitting zero home runs and just five doubles, but his size and swing suggest he’s got lots of raw power hidden away. He showed that off in high school and on the circuits, and most scouts agree he should be able to add more as he fills out his lanky frame.
Related: No. 7, Yandy Diaz
Defensively Jones has some limitations. The Indians let him play five games at shortstop, his high school position, but his future would look to be at third base where he played the 28 games.
There’s reason to think he can be average at the hot corner though there are some that have him pegged as a future first baseman or possibly an outfielder. The Indians will certainly give him every opportunity to stick at third. He has a decent arm and is an average runner, though he won’t likely steal many bases.
Where does he go from here?
Like with first rounder Will Benson, Jones looked very impressive coming out of high school this summer in the Arizona League. That combined with his great approach at the plate and the Indians should send him to full season ball at Class-A Lake County.
He’ll be at the level at the same age as Bobby Bradley and former Indians’ prospect Clint Frazier. While Jones may not have quite the power of those two, he has a similar approach and better hit tool than either at this stage.
For as advanced as Jones is for a teenager, he’s still a long ways off from seeing the big leagues. He’s got a lot of work to do defensively and the Tribe would like to see that raw power become more game power. Like others on this list, 2020 or later is a good estimate for when Jones could see Cleveland. He could move faster though if things click quickly but as of now, there’s no need for the Tribe to rush him.
He has one of the best swings I’ve seen from a teenager since Lonnie Chisenhall was drafted back in 2008 but he gets on base better and the size should help him more in the power department.
He’s easily my favorite prospect from the 2016 draft, a guy I’d have had no qualms about the Indians drafting 14th overall, and instead they got him 55th. I expect him to be in the top five next year and for years to come.