CLEVELAND -- So often when a young player gets called up to the Major Leagues for the first time, the transition is an overwhelming experience. The clubhouse is full of players he’s used to watching from afar and the routines are different from what he’s used to.
That has not been the case for Nolan Jones.
Jones is in a clubhouse full of guys who were his teammates all throughout the Minor Leagues -- even as recently as this season. While the competition is certainly more difficult at this level, Jones proved again on Monday night that he feels right at home, going 2-for-3 with four RBIs in the Guardians' 8-4 victory over the White Sox at Progressive Field.
“I was walking into a lot of familiar faces,” Jones said of joining the big league roster. “I'm not going to lie, the first day, it didn't even feel real, but it's kind of turned into having fun playing baseball and trying to help this team win.”
Jones hasn’t missed a beat since making the leap from Triple-A Columbus. Here’s a list of the feats he’s accomplished in just four Major League games:
• Jones’ eight RBIs in his first four career games are tied with Roy Weatherly (1936) for the most in that span in Cleveland history since RBIs became official in 1920.
• Jones became the 15th player in the Majors to have at least eight RBIs in his first four games since 1920.
• Jones is the eighth Cleveland player to record a four-RBI contest within his first four career games and the first since Kevin Kouzmanoff (2006).
“You don’t base a guy’s career on four or five games, I get that,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s still really encouraging to see guys do well and help us win.”
Jones has had a longer-than-anticipated journey to the big leagues. Injuries over the last few years pushed back his timeline, causing the former top prospect to drop to the club’s seventh-ranked prospect heading into this season, according to MLB Pipeline. Even though Jones’ season was cut short in 2021 due to needing left ankle surgery, he still had 99 games under his belt and his numbers were underwhelming for someone the organization had such high hopes for.
Jones began the process of making the transition from third base to outfield, and he recorded just a .238 average and a .787 OPS in those 99 games with Columbus. It was difficult to know how he’d look this season after back discomfort delayed his return even further. But something was different in his swing this season, as he reminded everyone of the skill set he can bring to the table, hitting .311 with a .917 OPS in 23 games with the Clippers.
“I mean, he was rated our No. 1 prospect for a couple years,” Francona said. “He just couldn’t stay healthy. Now, the hope is he can, because when he got to Triple-A, he worked really hard on shortening his stroke. He was always able to kind of leverage the ball, but it was a little longer. Now, it’s shorter and he’s to the ball. It gets a little exciting.”
As we mentioned in the stats listed above, this isn’t new for the Guardians, who have now had a handful of young players break into the big leagues this year and have immediate success.
How are they doing it?
“I mean, winning is a priority [in Columbus], as well,” Jones said. “It's another young group, so just going out and trying to do anything you can to help the team win I think is what they've got going down in Columbus.”
“I think it’s just confidence,” outfielder Steven Kwan said. “Having the boys around you, believing in yourself, I think it’s just the Cleveland way.”
As Francona said, it’s impossible -- and unfair -- to try to predict what a player’s career will be like just based on his first four games. Jones will inevitably struggle. Opponents will start to learn more about his approach at the plate and adjust to make at-bats more difficult for him as his stay in the Majors continues. The question will be if Jones can adjust back.
A handful of rookies have already set the precedent that it can be done. If history repeats itself, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jones continue to develop into the player everyone in the organization believed he could be when he was drafted in the second round in 2016.
“[Nolan has] been professional,” Guardians hurler Cal Quantrill said. “Prepared to play at this level, committed to the approach that we bring and really just doing a good job. … He’s a great guy and I think he deserves this opportunity, and I’m excited to see him take off.”