The Cincinnati Reds have signed right-handed reliever Nate Jones to a minor league deal for the 2020 season that includes an invite to spring training. Jones, a northern Kentucky local, went to high school at Pendleton County High School and then played in college at Northern Kentucky University before being drafted in the 5th round by the Chicago White Sox, has been in the Major Leagues in each season since 2012.
Health has been a bit of an issue for the right-hander, though. Jones only pitched in two games in 2014 with the White Sox and he didn’t record an out in either of them. He missed nearly the entire season after undergoing back surgery in early May, and then Tommy John surgery in July of that year. He returned in late 2015 and threw 19.0 innings. He then missed most of 2017, pitching in just 11 games after undergoing surgery on his elbow to reposition his ulnar nerve – a surgery that is becoming more and more common throughout baseball. He returned in 2018 and had success, but missed three months in the middle of the season before returning in mid-September. In 2019 he didn’t make it through April before having his season shut down. He had pitched well while on the mound, but underwent flexor mass surgery in May.
If we take a look at the career for Nate Jones, it’s pretty clear that when healthy, he’s gotten results. His career ERA is 3.12, and his ERA+ is 135. He’s really only had three full seasons, though – mixing in bits-and-pieces of other seasons cut short by injuries. Two of those full seasons, 2012 and 2016, were very good ones.
Over the last three years his ERA has gone up each season. Small sample size in all of them, to be sure. The ERA is less concerning given the amount of innings. What is a bit concerning, though, is that his walk rate has gone from above-average to poor in that stretch. From 2012-2016 he walked 8.5% of the batters he faced. In the last three seasons that number has jumped to 12% as he’s given up 28 free passes in 52.0 innings.
When he’s been healthy, Nate Jones brings the heat. For his career he’s averaged 98 MPH on his sinker, mixing in a slider that works in the upper 80’s and touching the low 90’s. In 2019, before he was shut down, that velocity slipped to 95.6 MPH – the first time in his career he fell below the 97 MPH mark for an average.
The soon to be 34-year-old has a big time arm. We’ve got a long history of seeing it. But Nate Jones is now coming back from a third arm surgery since reaching the Major Leagues. For Cincinnati, there’s not much risk here. If he comes to Goodyear and is healthy, and looks like the old Nate Jones this signing could turn out to be a great one. And if Jones doesn’t quite look like the same guy he was after the surgery – there’s not much commitment for the organization in terms of salary.