Every year teams will sign players to minor league contracts and give them invites to spring training. Usually these deals are for guys with Major League experience, but also ones that haven’t had plenty of success recently. Nate Jones is not one of those guys, but he still took a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds despite owning a career ERA of 3.12, and his ERA never being higher than 3.48 over the last five seasons. It hasn’t been the performance on the mound that’s held back Jones from getting a guaranteed deal – it’s been the lack of time on the mound.
In 2017 he threw just 11.2 innings. In 2018 he threw 30.0 innings. And then last year he threw just 10.1 innings before his season came to a close in May when he underwent flexor mass surgery while a member of the Chicago White Sox. Jones, despite being very good when he has been on the mound, is sort of a reclamation project. Not only had he been unable to stay on the mound with any sort of consistency, he was also coming back from a major arm surgery (I mean, all surgeries are major when you think about it – but you understand my point, hopefully).
This spring Nate Jones has pitched in three games. That’s hardly worth talking about if we are going to only be looking at the stats he’s put up. Spring training stats are notorious liars. But if we wanted to talk about the stats, he’s allowed a run on three hits and a walk in 3.0 innings with two strikeouts.
What is worth talking about, though, is how he’s throwing. Throughout his career, Nate Jones has averaged 97.3 MPH with his fastball. In 2019, though, that number was just 94.9 MPH before he was diagnosed as injured and had surgery.
Yesterday he took the mound on the road against the Colorado Rockies. That’s important to note because the Rockies home stadium in spring training has pitch tracking set up for the public. Nate Jones didn’t need much work to get through his outing. He threw just eight pitches on the day – five fastballs and three sliders. His fastball was between 96.2 MPH and 97.4 MPH. His slider was between 87.3 and 88.7 MPH. The velocity he had shown before the injury that required surgery is back.
And that brings us back to the question that’s the title of this article: Can Nate Jones make this roster? The answer, of course, is yes. He can. But we should also be saying that he should, assuming he remains healthy through the spring. Jones has been downright dominant at times in his career, and above-average at every single step of it. The 34-year-old right-handed reliever will require a roster move to be made to be added to the 40-man roster if the Reds decide to keep him around – but that doesn’t feel like much of a hurdle or really, a consideration that should come into play if he does show he’s healthy.