The Cleveland Indians turned a lot of heads when they drafted Will Benson in the first round of the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft. A first-round pick will always be closely scrutinized no matter what. But the Indians may have gotten a first-round pick in the second round of the draft as the Indians drafted shortstop Nolan Jones from Holy Ghost Preparatory School with the 55th pick of the draft.
“That was probably one of the most unbelievable nights of my life," Jones recalled. "The draft was going really slow for me because there was a lot of different places I thought I was gonna be taken so once my name got called I was with all my family and friends. That was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life."
For Jones it could not have been a more ideal situation. Jones went to school on the east coast and has a ton of family that lives there as well. For him to be able to get the opportunity to mostly stay on the east coast where he can be near his family was a dream come true for him given that the Indians have only two minor league teams that are not located in Ohio.
Jones may have been a shortstop but given the Indians depth at the middle infield position throughout the system they found it best to shift Jones over to the hot corner. The decision made sense as Jones is big for a shortstop and doesn't have the nimble size like the prototypical shortstops in today’s game. His frame just translates much better at third base. It was an adjustment for Jones but he was more than up for the challenge.
“I had to be wider, throw a little harder and learn to throw with a little feel," he noted. "It’s kind of just learning every day. I like spring training because I take ground balls with Double-A and Triple-A third basemen. It’s unbelievable for me because every ground ball they’re helping me and teaching me stuff and I’m watching them, so I’m trying to learn something new every day."
Aside from having to learn a new position, Jones was also about to learn about the drastic differences between playing in the minor leagues and high school. It was another new challenge for him but another opportunity for him to learn and grow as a player.
“In high school the pitchers don’t throw as hard, the runners don’t run as fast, and hitters don’t hit the ball as hard so the speed of the game is completely different," Jones said. "In high school we don’t focus on the smaller things, we just kind of go through our days and win our games so in getting here I got to focus on my personal skills and that was something I really benefited from."
Jones quickly got off to a hot start in the Arizona Rookie League but soon cooled down and ended up finishing his first season with a .257/.388/.339 batting line across 32 games. There were plenty of positive things to see about his first performance. While his power didn't translate in his first season, he showed off his plate discipline and knowledge of the strike zone as he racked up a 17.2% walk rate. The Indians are definitely big on having plate discipline and being able to draw free passes as they were in the top 10 of the majors last season with an overall 8.6% walk rate.
There were also some things that Jones clearly needed to work on. While he had done a good job drawing walks, he only recorded seven extra-base hits and hit no home runs in the Arizona League. For Jones to be a successful third baseman, he’ll need to tap into his power and be able to drive the ball more efficiently.
“I was really always a line drive hitter that let balls carry so they kind of want me to let balls carry and let them elevate a little more just because in the big leagues a hit on the ground is an out,” Jones noted.
Jones did not take his first season for granted though. While his game showed there was quite a bit to work on, the experience he gained from playing in the Arizona League was invaluable and there was plenty to take away from his first season in the minors. He quickly understands the importance of having a workout routine to get himself into a rhythm and be able to keep up with the speed of the game.
“This is all fun to me," smiled Jones. "Obviously, getting to the big leagues is the overall dream someday, but I’m taking it day-by-day and enjoying what I’m doing. This is a blessing to be able to play baseball every day."
That day-by-day approach is definitely something the Indians like to see in a player. That’s how they want all of their players to approach the game. Jones already understands this and he’s not even in his second season. Hopefully, Jones will continue to progress and make his mark as a top third base prospect in the system.