The Guardians announced a series of roster moves to reporters tonight, with Zack Meisel of The Athletic among those to relay them on Twitter. Prospect Nolan Jones has been promoted to the big leagues, while catcher Austin Hedges was activated from the seven-day concussion list. To create room for those two, outfielder Richie Palacios was optioned to Triple-A and catcher Sandy Leon was designated for assignment.
Jones, 24, was a second round selection of Cleveland in the 2016 draft. Considered by most evaluators to be a bat-first prospect, he mashed his way through the lower levels of the minors and jumped onto top prospect lists in 2019. Baseball America ranked him the #96 prospect in the league that year, with Jones pushing up the list as the season went on. However, that campaign ended on a bit of a sour note, as Jones underwent thumb surgery in October of 2019.
That was the first of a couple of obstacles that slowed his ascent to the big leagues. 2020 saw the minor leagues wiped out entirely by the pandemic, and Jones showed some rust when organized games returned in 2021. He improved as the season went along, though, finishing the year with a .238/.356/.431 line in 407 Triple-A plate appearances, good enough for a wRC+ of 113. Unfortunately, an ankle injury in August finished his season and caused him to start his offseason with a surgery for a second time.
Things seem to be back on track here in 2022, however, as Jones has hit .311/.417/.500 through 108 plate appearances in Triple-A this year, producing a 146 wRC+. If he can carry any of that over to the big leagues, it will provide an offensive boost to a team that’s lacking in that department. Despite an even 40-40 record, the team’s overall slash line is .243/.307/.377 for a wRC+ of 95, ranking them 21st in the league.
Defensively, things are a bit less certain for Jones. He largely played third base in his first few minor league seasons, but due to questions about his abilities there, coupled with the presence of Jose Ramirez, Jones has been moved to other places on the diamond. He started playing right field last year, with that spot becoming his regular home so far this season. He also played one game at first base last year and a couple in left field here in 2020. With Palacios being optioned out, Jones should step into the outfield mix next to Myles Straw and Steven Kwan.
As for Leon, 33, he started the year with the Reds on a minor league deal. The Guardians acquired him recently when Hedges landed on the IL. He got into nine games and hit .133/.381/.133. He’s never been much of a hitter outside of a surprise surge in 2016, instead earning his keep with quality game-calling and defense. The Guardians will have one week to trade him, pass him through waivers or release him. If he were to clear waivers, Leon would be eligible to reject an outright assignment by virtue of being a veteran with over five years of MLB service time.