The Rockies announced this evening that corner infielder/outfielder Nolan Jones has been optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque. Reliever Noah Davis was also optioned, while non-roster invitees Logan Allen, Jeff Criswell, Braxton Fulford and Karl Kauffmann were all reassigned to minor league camp.
Jones’ demotion comes as a bit of a surprise. Colorado acquired the 24-year-old from the Guardians at the start of the offseason, sending infield prospect Juan Brito the other way. It was a rare swap of fairly well regarded young players, with Colorado taking the shot on a power hitter closer to the majors while Cleveland added an up-the-middle talent with excellent numbers in Low-A. Jones entered camp with what seemed to be a strong chance to crack the Opening Day team in Colorado, an opportunity that might not have been afforded on a deeper Guardians’ roster.
That became particularly true once the Rox lost starting second baseman Brendan Rodgers to what could be a season-ending shoulder dislocation. That opened the possibility of third baseman Ryan McMahon moving back to the keystone. Colorado general manager Bill Schmidt declared that the plan a couple weeks ago. The club later added Mike Moustakas to the organization on a non-roster pact. Moustakas played a decent amount of second base between 2019-20 but has only logged 10 2/3 innings there over the past two seasons. Thomas Harding of MLB.com tweeted shortly after the signing that the Rockies viewed Moustakas solely as a corner infield/designated hitter option.
With McMahon likely headed to second, third base became a position for grabs. Jones, Elehuris Montero and non-roster veterans Moustakas and Harold Castro appeared the top candidates. Jones is now out of the mix to start the season, due at least in part to a disappointing spring performance. The left-handed hitter hit .186/.250/.233 in exhibition play, striking out 20 times in 48 plate appearances. Moustakas, Montero and Castro have all gotten off to better starts this spring.
A former second-round pick, Jones appeared among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects each season from 2019-21. He has generated intrigue for huge walk tallies and big power potential in his 6’4″ frame but lofty strikeout totals have been the biggest concern. Jones routinely struck out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances climbing the minor league ladder, including a 30% rate in Triple-A in 2021. To his credit, he trimmed that to 25.8% with a quality .276/.368/.463 line over 55 games there last year. That earned him a 28-game MLB look, in which he posted a .244/.309/.372 slash with 31 punchouts and eight walks in 94 plate appearances.
Jones will start the year with the Isotopes and should benefit from one of the most favorable offensive environments in pro ball. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him earn a recall to make his team debut before too long. In the interim, his option seems to bode well for Moustakas’ and Castro’s chances of cracking the roster out of camp.
The remainder of the corner spots should be spoken for if everyone’s healthy. The Rockies have agreed to terms with Jurickson Profar to play left field, thereby pushing Kris Bryant to right. First baseman C.J. Cron has dealt with some back discomfort but informed reporters today he expects to be ready for Opening Day (via Harding). The same is true for corner outfielder/DH Charlie Blackmon, who has also been slowed by a back problem but expects to participate in batting practice this evening (relayed by Danielle Allentuck of the Denver Gazette).