It’s a simple, cliché, yet tough goal to accomplish, but the biggest one on Nolan Jones’ list was to constantly get better.
Jones may have even exceeded his own expectations by getting promoted from Lake County to Lynchburg on August 2.
Each month, Jones did indeed see his numbers go up every month. Consider his OPS by each month this season:
August: 1.061 (7 games)
“I’m constantly trying to understand and get better,” Jones said. “With my defense and same with my hitting, I’m always working on something. Whether it’s my approach or mechanics. The goal is to keep improving to play in the big leagues.”
Jones’ constant ability to improve and succeed can be traced back to his advanced approach, especially for a 20-year old. His walk rate of 16.2% with Lake County ranked 24th in all of minor league baseball prior to his promotion and he’s the third youngest player among those 24.
The plate discipline and control of the strike zone that Jones posses is going to be part of his approach and carrying tool as he moves up and faces better pitching.
“I feel like I’ve had that my whole life,” Jones said of his approach that helped him succeed in Lake County. “My dad had a batting cage in the backyard and would try to strike me out so I was always very disciplined and it helped me with a lot of that when I was young.”
Jones has largely been able to stick with his approach and swing most of the season aside from one subtle change, which has also helped him stick with what has made him successful and comfortable.
“The one thing we changed early in the year was my hand position,” Jones said. “But other than that, it’s just being consistent. Getting my pitch, hitting my pitch, staying on time and consistent. The more pitches I see the better.”
In addition to his plate discipline, another thing that makes Jones a hard out and difficult to pitch to is his power to the opposite field. Even as a young hitter, Jones has been able to recognize where his strength as a hitter are to and to stick to them.
“That’s a good question,” Jones said when asked where his opposite field power comes from. “It’ just understanding that it’s one of my strengths and I’m continuing to work on that. Every hitter has their own strengths and it’s something I can keep working on…I think it makes me harder to pitch to and can lead to more walks. Later in series’, teams have started to pitch me different when they see me driving the other ball like that.”
While Jones hasn’t had to overhaul his approach or swing, defense is one area he has had to put in a lot of work. The cold weather and a minor knee ailment early in the year may have held him back some, but after a tough start to the season in the field, Jones has improved. A majority of his 10 errors in Lake County came in April and May. His action and re-actions steadily improved throughout the year. Mentally, Jones did a great job to separate the two to continue to improve both in the field and at the plate, even if he had a tough day on either side of the ball, something that is often hard for players his age as well. Especially when players of Jones’ talent level, a high draft pick who rarely struggled in high school in any facet of the game.
“That’s what the minor leagues are for,” Jones said. “There’s where the growth comes from. I may have made a lot of errors on defense, but I always have something I can go back to and forget about it. I know the team is going to pick me up and I have to focus on how I can help next. It’s still something I’m trying to learn. It’s not easy to accept failure, but in this game, you have to. If I keep thinking about I’m going to carry it into m next at bat and I have to get better at it. That’s one of the hardest parts of the game. The competition is better. Every day you see a guy throwing hard and there are good pitching in this league. I just focus on what I can control. I can’t control the results, but I can hit the ball hard or draw a walk. I only angry at myself if I give bats away.”
Improving every month of the season is really an incredible feat when you think about Jones’ age and that this is the first year that he has played baseball from April through the entire summer and into the early fall. He can probably thank his background playing hockey at Holy Ghost Prep aiding his tough mental approach to the grind of a long season.
“It teaches you to be mentally strong and helps physically,” Jones said. “The strength it takes to play hockey – I’ve played football and I think it’s incomparable. Every play, every second you need to be aware because one mistake, like baseball could lead to the team losing. It’s different coming from an 18 game high school season (in Pennsylvania) and 30 games of summer ball to coming in to get your body ready to play is different. All the work we do in the offseason helps and my body and arm in a good spot.”
Jones isn’t lying when he says he feels good. His last game before being promoted from Lake County to Lyncburg, he hit two homers, including his first one to right field, a bomb over the double-deck signboard in right field.