The Cleveland Indians are continuing a familiar process in 2021.
A star, Francisco Lindor, was traded away for younger talent and that opens the door for top prospects to get playing time and hopefully become the next Lindor.
Nolan Jones is the one player the front office is banking on for future success.
MLB.com lists him as the team’s top prospect he is finally ready to debut this season.
But the third baseman faces a unique path and will also have to deal with the front office manipulating his service time.
Top career wRC+ by a third base prospect this past decade with at least 1,000 PA's in MiLB.
1) Valdimir Guerrero Jr. 164
2) Nick Senzel 158
3) Joey Gallo 157
4) Miguel Sano 156
5) Nolan Jones 152 pic.twitter.com/TyuwDfSkoB
— Indians Prospective (@indiansPro) September 10, 2020
When Will Jones Arrive in Cleveland?
Service time manipulation is a problem in MLB.
Basically, a team can call up a top prospect in late April to ensure when the year is over he doesn’t accrue a full year of service time.
Thus, he hits free agency one year later.
A team like the Indians is always going to opt for this strategy because of the inability to extend star players.
Lindor didn’t make his debut in 2015 until June so his six-year window of team control began in 2016.
Fans should expect to see Jones in Cleveland early in the season.
However, him breaking camp with the club would be a huge shock.
Where Will Jones Play?
Jones is a third baseman and obviously that position is taken by Jose Ramirez.
The young man has proven to be versatile and his path to the big leagues will now be made quicker as either an outfielder or a first baseman.
The goal for the Indians is to get him in the lineup on a full-time basis.
— Indians Prospective (@indiansPro) October 27, 2020
We are already seeing playing on the roster like Franmil Reyes, Josh Naylor, and Jake Bauers following this path of playing where they are needed.
Jones is next in line and is going to get the nod as a starter because of his status as the top prospect.
The good news for the Indians is Jones got to spend last summer at the team’s training site in Lake County.
This allowed him to work on these new positions and not have to do so within actual games.
He may one day switch back to third base if the Indians break fans’ hearts and trade Ramirez.
But in the meantime, he can get in the lineup and potentially launch a career at a new position.
Bryce Harper was a catcher before he was drafted, so a transition to the outfield isn’t a wild idea for players with so much natural talent.
Patience With Jones
Whenever the rookie does get called up, fans will have to remember it is just the start of his journey.
A slow start won’t tank his career and he is a top prospect in the system for a reason.
The Indians may even experiment with him at several outfield spots and at first base, so his play defensively will also need context if there are struggles.
The general feeling about seeing Jones should be excitement.
And if he can help the team push for a playoff spot in 2021, that is simply a bonus.