Indians top prospect Nolan Jones underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb this week, per MLB.com’s Mandy Bell (Twitter link). The organization is hopeful that he’ll be ready for Spring Training 2020 without any restrictions, though no firm timeline was placed on his recovery.
Jones, 21, missed some time this season with a thumb injury and reinjured the digit while playing in the Arizona Fall League. The setback preempted his AFL run at just 15 games with a lackluster .200/.294/.422 slash, but 2019 season, as a whole, was a positive one for the 2016 second-round pick. Jones opened the season at Class-A Advanced and fared well against older competition before being elevated to Double-A and turning in similarly strong results. He finished the regular season with a combined .272/.409/.442 batting line to go along with 15 home runs, 22 doubles, three triples and seven stolen bases (in 10 attempts). Jones certainly had some strikeout issues (27.7 percent), but he also drew a walk in a ridiculous 17.9 percent of his plate appearances.
By most accounts, Jones’ strong 2019 showing catapulted him into the top 50 minor leaguers in the game. MLB.com currently tabs him 37th overall, while Baseball America ranks him 44th and Fangraphs lists him 46th in the game. There are some questions about his glovework and concerns about a potential move to first base or right field (as laid out in his scouting report at Fangraphs), but his huge walk rates and considerable raw power should help him punch his ticket to the big leagues sooner rather than later — perhaps even midway through the 2020 season.
Jones’ proximity to the big leagues is of particular importance for the Indians, who have a pressing need at either third base or second base — whichever position isn’t ultimately occupied by Jose Ramirez next season. (Ramirez has said he’s open to playing either.) Given the recent payroll concerns from Indians ownership, a near-term emergence from Jones would be a boon for the organization. It’s possible that Cleveland will simply look for a one-year veteran stopgap to keep a seat warm for Jones at the MLB level, thus allowing the team to allocate what looks to be a limited slate of financial resources to other areas of need.