Rockies OF Nolan Jones’ case for National League Rookie of Year

With an impressive debut season in Colorado, Nolan Jones has cemented himself in the Rockies’ future plans and is a contender for the National League Rookie of the Year award.

Only one Colorado player has won the honor before, right-hander Jason Jennings in 2002. But Jones, a 25-year-old budding star acquired in a trade with the Guardians last November, has played his way into that conversation.

“I’m going out there and trying to help the team win every day, and the fact it’s getting noticed is cool,” Jones said. “I want to keep helping this organization win and be a part of something special when these younger guys continue to roll up, and all these pieces start to fall into place.”

Entering Wednesday’s series finale in San Diego, Jones’ case for Rookie of the Year is strong.

Jones’ 3.5 WAR is third among NL rookies, behind Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll (6.1) and Reds infielder Matt McLain (3.7), the former of whom is the Vegas favorite to win the award.

But WAR aside, Jones’ case is stronger than Carroll’s in many regards, even though Carroll is an important cog on a team fighting for a playoff spot. Among qualified NL rookies, Jones ranks first in OPS (.890), on-base percentage (.370), slugging (.520), wOBA (.378) and barrel rate (15.2%), while ranking second in average (.283) to McLain (.290).

Jones is also second in baseball in average with runners in scoring position among batters with at least 75 plate appearances, hitting .420. Since his recall on May 26, he leads all NL rookies in extra-base hits (40) and is tied for the lead with 17 homers. With three stolen bases Tuesday in San Diego, Jones also became only the third rookie in the last quarter-century with at least 15 homers, 15 steals and 15 outfield assists, joining Adolis Garcia (2021 Rangers) and Carlos Beltrán (1999 Royals and AL Rookie of the Year).

“I came into spring training this year wanting to prove myself, and I got off to a really slow start because I was pressing,” Jones said. “I had to just take my lumps and bruises and head to Triple-A. Once I got there, and just settled in and started enjoying playing baseball again, I started playing well and that continued (into the majors).”

Despite being relatively new to left field, where he’s seen the majority of his playing time after making only two career starts there prior to this season, Jones has made an impact with his glove, too.

His 16 outfield assists are second-most in the majors and tied for the second-most in a single season in franchise history — one behind Dante Bichette’s record from 1999 (achieved in 144 games). That’s not entirely surprising given that Jones has the best average arm strength in the majors at 98.7 mph.

“This year was a year of learning about me, because even I didn’t know what I could do defensively in the outfield,” Jones said. “I’m still trying to learn and get better out there, but something I’d really like to (iron out the rest of) this year is to have a position for next year.

“I want to dial in out there and become the best left fielder I can be, because there’s a lot of room for growth me for out there, which is really exciting. I want to be a Gold Glove outfielder one day.”

Speaking of Gold Glove outfielders, the Rockies have a case to have their third such award-winner this year, with Brenton Doyle a statistical favorite to join Carlos Gonzalez and Larry Walker in achieving the feat.

The rookie center fielder leads all of baseball in Ultimate Zone Rating (a sabermetric factoring in arm strength, range and errors) at 19.4, well above second-place Fernado Tatis Jr. of the Padres (12.3) and the nearest center fielder in the rankings, the Braves’ Michael Harris II at 5.5. And Doyle is first among NL center fielders with 16 defensive runs saved.

Doyle has 10 outfield assists and the league’s fastest assist in the Statcast era at 105.7 mph. For all of those reasons, plus the eye test, Jones believes the Gold Glove case for his fellow Rockies rookie is “pretty clear.”

Doyle previously won a minor-league Gold Glove for his play in 2021 with High-A Spokane. If he wins the Gold Glove this year, he’d become only the second Colorado rookie to do so, joining third baseman Nolan Arenado (2013).

“I don’t really think there is a Gold Glove race,” Jones said. “I can’t imagine there’s much argument for other guys stacking up to what B.D. has done to win the Gold Glove. It’s a no-brainer. He’s having a special year out there.”

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