Indians top prospect, 3B Nolan Jones, is headed to the 2019 MLB Futures Game in Cleveland.
Once a year during All-Star weekend, the grind of minor league baseball gives way to a glimpse of the future for many of the game’s top prospects at the Future’s Game.
For a weekend, minor leaguer’s get to leave the life of long bus rides, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, random motel rooms and apartments behind and play against the best of their peers at an MLB park in a big league All-Star setting. For most, it’s their first time playing in a big league stadium, at least in their professional career.
For the first time tomorrow, Nolan Jones will play a baseball game at Progressive Field as a member of the Indians organization. The way things have unfolded in his minor league career, it’s likely that it won’t be his last.
Jones joins the AL squad hitting .286/.435/.425 with seven homers, 12 2B and 41 RBI in 324 plate appearances in High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League at age 21. It’s his first such invite to this event and may also not be his last.
The first one should be special playing what he hopes will be the first of many games at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
“I was excited,” Jones said about getting the news. “I was in the coaches office after the game and they let me know I was selected. I was overcome with emotion. It would have been special either way, but for it to be at Progressive Field is just icing on the cake.
Jones sure won’t have a lack of things to soak in come game time tomorrow. Between players he’s played against (DL Hall, of Fredrick (Orioles) who has given him a tough time this year Jones noted in particular) and the coaching staff that former Indians Omar Vizquel, Charlie Manuel and the manager, Hall of Famer, Jim Thome.
Thome may well be a good voice for Jones to take cues from. Thome, once a high school shortstop, much like Nolan Jones, came up as a third basemen with the ability to hit, take walks and the future promise of power. Most also thought Thome couldn’t stick at third base long term. He did move to first base, but initially broke in as a third basemen and moved because the Indians acquired Gold Glover Matt Williams.
Jones showed no lack of power in 2018, with 19 homers in 120 games as a 20 year old in his first full season of pro ball.
This year, Jones’ power isn’t quite there yet, but he’s making more contact, and making pitchers work hard in his at bats all, putting up a 20.1% walk rate that is tied for first in all of minor league baseball (min 250 PAs).
While still striking out at the same rate as last year, Jones has cut down his swinging strike rate from 10.3% to 7.3% and credits his disdain for making outs to that improvement.
“I don’t like making outs,” Jones said. “I’m always trying to make an adjustment. I focused in the offseason on trying to hit pitches in the zone that I wasn’t good at last year. It’s helped me make an improvement in making contact and my swing decisions.”
The adjustments, learning how to ride the ups and downs are what puts players like Jones into games like the Future’s Game, where his hard work and talent get rewarded and recognized. It’s hard to say that anything this season for Jones has been unsuccessful even if his power is down (.139 ISO from .173 at Lynchburg in the second half of 2018), but that’s not how he feels.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “I’ve found success and had my share of failures. I wouldn’t say I’m happy with the way things have gone. I want to be better. But I am definitely settling in and learning. I’m constantly learning. Sometimes there are bigger adjustments than others. I’m making those everyday but I will never be as good as I want to be. I think that’s what makes players great and find ways to get out of slumps and makes seasons fun. Finding a way to get out of it, hard work. It’s great to see it paying off and I’m excited to see where it takes me.”
Who knows, maybe Thome and Manuel will offer Jones a tip to help set him down an even brighter path than Jones was already, much like the way Manuel did for Thome as a young hitter, and possibly take it with him to Akron after the game.