Hockey helped Jones develop toughness

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon
Nolan Jones of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers was the Cleveland Indians’ second-round draft choice in 2016.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Nolan Jones of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers was the Cleveland Indians’ second-round draft choice in 2016.

NILES — Don’t expect Nolan Jones to be afraid to get in front of a hard-hit ball to third base, a position often called “the hot corner” because of the extreme velocity of hits that come that way.

Jones’ fearlessness isn’t simply because he’s 6-foot-4 and nearly 200 pounds. It’s not because he was a 2016 second-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians who’s out to prove he’s worthy of the selection now that he’s with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

It’s because he’s a hockey player. Well, he was a hockey player — a sport where toughness is as important as throwing is in baseball.

“I credit my brother to like 90 percent of my success,” said Jones, whose brother Peyton plays hockey at Penn State University. “He’s two years older and he’s a hockey goalie. He was always a goalie, and I was always a forward. (In baseball), he was always a catcher, and I was a pitcher. We would have these competitions where I’d shoot on him for three hours to see how many goals I could score. That helped me unbelievably toward my athletic career.”

OK, so maybe Peyton would be the one less afraid of getting in front of a grounder with a vapor trail. Still, Nolan understands toughness is going to be a big part of developing into a major league player.

Aside from the day-to-day mental grind that involves eating, drinking, sleeping and breathing the ups and downs of the sport, there are the physical pains from bumps and bruises that come along with playing in the infield.

Either way, Nolan is ready for any grounder — or fastball — that comes his way.

“I think that’s one of my fortes is that I’ll be able to wear one,” said Jones of being hit by the ball. “I don’t know why (Peyton) chose hockey and I chose baseball, but that’s just the way it happened. It worked out for both of us.”

The Indians are happy it did.

The Tribe liked the third baseman (a former shortstop) so much that they signed him to a $2.25 million contract, making him one of only five players drafted outside the first round to earn more than $2 million. Nolan also is rated as Cleveland’s No. 8 prospect by Baseball America.

The easy-going Jones isn’t overly concerned with the expectations. He knows it means very little when it comes to developing.

“Honestly, I don’t even really think about that,” said Jones of his high draft status. “At the beginning, it was kind something that I was like, ‘Do I have to perform for other people?’ But, we’re all baseball players now. We’re all Mahoning Valley Scrappers. It doesn’t matter if you were drafted first or last. Just go out there and play, that’s kind of my mentality.”

Actually playing in front of people is going to be a bit of a new experience for Jones. He hasn’t done it since high school.

The big left-handed hitter from Holy Ghost Prep High School near Philadelphia spent the last year with the Indians’ Arizona Rookie League team. He hit .257 in 32 games (109 at-bats) with five doubles, two triples and an impressive 23 walks (one of the highest marks in the league).

It was a good start for Jones, but he wants more, and not just from a baseball standpoint. There weren’t any fans in Arizona. Just coaches, fellow rookies and plenty of dry heat.

“I’ve been waiting for this a while,” said Jones as he looked at Eastwood Field. “Seeing some stands behind home plate is something pretty special.”

Jones also is only about six hours from home and around five hours from his brother. While that may sound like a long drive, Nolan said he and his family took countless drives that were much longer during his hockey career. It’s another benefit from a sport that is quite different from baseball, but one that Jones said absolutely helped him become a better ball player — one with a fearless attitude.

So, does that mean he’s more inclined to charge the mound?

“I don’t know about that,” he laughed.

Another thing the Indians are probably happy to hear.

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