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Nolan Jones is your new favorite Rockie

The rookie turned heads with all facets of his game on the field

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2023. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 1, Nolan Jones: 4.3 rWAR

Trades are always a gamble for any general manager. It’s difficult to predict if things will work out when acquiring an unrefined talent that you just acquired for a strong prospect. However, when things pan out, it’s an incredible feeling, which may just be the case for Bill Schmidt concerning the Nolan Jones trade following his stellar 2023 season.

For the Colorado Rockies, there was no question by season’s end who the team’s MVP truly was. For months they bore witness to a player who had a 20/20 season, improved on offensive problems, and broke franchise defensive outfield records while finishing in the top five for National League Rookie of the Year voting. What began as an under-the-radar trade blossomed into a new fan favorite and perhaps even the new face of the Rockies franchise.

Atomic Jones

When the Rockies acquired Jones from the Cleveland Guardians for Juan Brito, it was with an understanding that he would have the potential to act as a Major League-ready left-handed power bat, likely off the bench. Once spring training rolled around, it became clear that he wasn’t up to snuff from the start. Strikeouts plagued him in spring training, leading to his demotion to Triple-A Albuquerque to begin the season. The demotion, and perhaps the acceptance of the move to the Rockies system, flipped a switch for Jones and he hit the ground running in Albuquerque.

He played 39 games in Triple-A, slashing .356/.481/.711 with 13 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs, 42 RBI and four outfield assists. He produced 17 multi-hit games and, most importantly, walked 33 times against 43 strikeouts. Jones had tapped into something when Rockies fans were begging for him to get some action at the big-league level and after an earlier brief trip to Seattle (where he didn’t play), Jones eventually got a permanent call in late May, kicking off one of the best rookie seasons in Rockies history.

NoJo’s Offensive Mojo

Jones’ calling card was always going to be his bat. The once highly touted Guardians prospect was known for his offensive potential, particularly when it came to power. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate in his brief big-league stint in 2022, but that was not the case in 2023 for the Rockies.

In all, Jones played in 106 games with the team. In 424 plate appearances, he slashed .297/.389/.542 with 22 doubles, four triples, 20 home runs and 62 RBI. His 135 wRC+ led the team by a fairly good margin among regular players as did his .395 wOBA. Additionally, his 27 weighted Runs Above Average was nearly three times higher than Charlie Blackmon’s second-best 10.8 wRAA. Despite playing fewer games than several of the lineup staples, Jones did more in less than time over the year to become the offensive keystone.

As was mentioned previously, strikeouts were a problem in spring training that he tried to address in Triple-A. Those efforts carried over to the MLB level, though not with the grandeur it had in Albuquerque. Jones is still prone to strike out as evidenced by his 29.7% strikeout rate. What made it manageable was his ability to draw more walks and put the ball in play. His 12.5% walk rate was tied for highest on the team with Mike Moustakas. He had a respectable 70% contact rate, but he will need to refine his approach at the plate just a smidge more as his .401 BABIP isn’t exactly a sustainable rate to rely on.

His most significant feat was that he had 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Jones joined an exclusive club comprising of just 15 rookies to ever have a 20/20 season. Not only that, but he became the player with the fewest plate appearances in history to have a 20/20 with 424, just two fewer than the previous record set by Raúl Mondesi in 2000. The unique combination of speed, power, and average, plus some of the defensive traits we’ll get into, put Jones on the verge of being a true five-tool player.

Before anyone cries “COORS!” it’s important to recognize that Jones was solid both home and away. He evenly split his home runs between home and away while his SLG was higher on the road. He naturally had a higher AVG and OBP at Coors Field, but it wasn’t a drastic deviation while on the road. In either locale, Jones was productive, especially against left-handed pitching where he batted .314/.377/.525 with seven home runs.

He also led all qualified rookies in AVG, OBP and SLG which helped him finish fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting.

While we are at it, let’s enjoy 10 of his home runs from this past season.

Don’t forget that he also won NL Player of the Week and NL Rookie of the Month in September as well as a shiny new Rolex watch courtesy of Bryant for his performance this season. The list of offensive achievements goes on and on — just search ‘Nolan Jones Purple Row’ on Google to find all our articles this year — but what was a true surprise was the defensive showing he produced in 2023.

NoJo’s Defensive Mojo

It was unclear where Jones was going to play. Third base was filled, so Jones was moved to the outfield and perhaps occasionally filled in at first base. Jurickson Profar was in left while Kris Bryant and Randal Grichuk managed right field. Yet when the dust settled for the 2023 season, it was Jones who was the last man standing in the outfield of those three. It was no question as to why because Jones played Gold Glove-caliber defense in a position he is still learning.

Jones played just 99 games in the outfield, a total of 793 innings, yet he finished 11th in all of baseball among outfielders with 10 DRS. He showcased a decent range — thanks to some long strides — that helped him conquer the outfield at Coors Field. He finished with a 5.3 UZR, placing him 13th among MLB outfielders, proving that the Rockies have two of the best outfielders roaming the grass and chasing down fly balls.

But what teams truly came to fear was the cannon attached to his shoulder. Jones had 19 outfield assists, the most in baseball this season and the most ever by a Rockies outfielder in a single season. Teams learned that it was typically a no-go on NoJo when trying to advance. He had the average strongest throw according to Statcast at 98.9 mph, and also set a record with a 102.7 mph laser assist, the fastest in Rockies history.

It’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s another to just watch his arm and defense speak for itself.

Jones would have likely been a Gold Glove finalist in left field had he played enough innings to be eligible, but no doubt that if he continues on this trajectory, he’ll add some hardware to his mantle.

Our New Favorite Nolan

The Rockies may have struck gold with Jones. He is now seen as a key piece for the lineup, and there is plenty to be optimistic about for him. For Jones, 2024 will be an important year to show that 2023 wasn’t a fluke and that he is as good as he proved himself to be.

Many things went wrong for the Rockies in 2023, but they can hang their heads high as Nolan Allen Jones was one thing that went right.

★★★

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