Tribe invites top prospect Jones to camp

Third baseman has spent offseason rehabbing from thumb surgery

February 24th, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Because Minor League Spring Training camp doesn’t begin until the first week of March, third baseman Nolan Jones had time to make a quick trip to State College, Pa., over the weekend to support his older brother, Peyton, in his senior night hockey game at Penn State University. When he got back to the Indians’ Spring Training complex Monday morning, he was told to go to manager Terry Francona’s office.

“I had an idea [of what it was about]. I just was hoping I wasn’t getting in trouble,” Jones said with a laugh.

When he sat down, Jones was informed that the Indians were extending him a non-roster invitation to big league Spring Training, beginning Monday afternoon.

“I’m super excited,” Jones said. “It’s a huge opportunity for me to learn from and be around a lot of these guys and get to know them. … It’s a great experience to be around these guys and get to learn from some of the best players in the game. So it was definitely a goal of mine. I never really knew if it was realistic or not, but it was a goal of mine, for sure.”

“I thought he had already been told that he was coming to camp,” Francona said. “I just thought we were going to explain things to him, and he didn't know. So we got to start from the beginning. … I mean that was just pure pleasure. He's a great kid to boot. But just to see his eyes light up, I think you need to take a second to enjoy it because you don't have enough of those.”

Jones, who was ranked last year as the Indians' top prospect by MLB Pipeline, didn’t receive an invite prior to the start of camp because he has been rehabbing from surgery on his right thumb that was performed in October. The 21-year-old said he’s been feeling discomfort in that thumb since the end of the 2018 season and finally was pain-free three weeks ago. Because of the hard work he put in over the offseason to get himself back to full strength ahead of schedule, the Indians wanted to reward him with an invitation to big league camp.

“I’ve been dealing with it for a long time,” Jones said. “I found ways to deal with it, different positions I could hold my hand that hurt less. But now that it’s pain free, I’m able to take swings at 100 percent in the cage and definitely get my work in. There were times when I wasn’t able to get as much work as I wanted to down in the cage because I wasn’t able to take as many swings at the intensity that I needed to, but now that I’m feeling good, I’m able to get those swings in and I feel like I’m definitely getting better.”

Indians field coordinator John McDonald, who told Jones that Francona was looking for him Monday morning, has been working with Jones to improve his defense at third to get him closer to being Major League ready. Although Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti indicated at the Winter Meetings in December that Jones would likely play more of a role on their team after 2020, the club has been pleased with his progress.

“I mean Nolan, at the time we drafted him, he was a shortstop,” Antonetti said in December. “He’s a really big, physical guy, so he works really hard as a third baseman. And he’s developing really well. We think he has a chance to be good over there.”

In 2018, Jones hit .283 with an .871 OPS, 19 homers, 66 RBIs and 131 strikeouts in 120 games between Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Lynchburg. While dealing with the thumb problems in ’19, he batted .272 with an .851 OPS, 15 homers, 63 RBIs and 148 strikeouts in 126 games between Lynchburg and Double-A Akron.

“I mean, I’ve heard so many good things about the kid from everybody,” Francona said. “For however long he’s here, we just want him to kind of be a sponge and watch how guys do things. I told him, ‘I don’t know how many at-bats you’re gonna get. I hope you get some hits because it’s fun to watch guys get hits. That’s not going to define who you are. You’re going to get ready for the season.’

“The one thing I did tell him, because [McDonald] has been telling him every year, ‘You’re not ready for the Major Leagues.’ And I said, ‘This is the one time I’m going to sit here and say now you are where you are. … the Major Leagues is maybe the next step. That’s pretty exciting.’ I think he’ll take advantage of his time here.”