Nate Jones has not had a very big role with the White Sox over the last couple of years due to injury (Tommy John Surgery). Now that he is healthy, could he end up being a key late-inning man for the Sox in 2016?
Jones broke into the majors in 2012, and did not disappoint. He went 8-0 with an ERA of 2.39, helping the White Sox make a surprise playoff push that fell short in the final two weeks of the season. Jones can touch 100 MPH on the radar gun, meaning he will get his fair share of strikeouts (about one per inning over his career). One good quality of Jones is that he has control, considering that he walks less than one batter per half inning.
I personally think that Jones would be a good setup man due to the fact that he has a power arm. Keep in mind that Jones strength is in the 8th inning, not the 9th. While I am not saying that he couldn’t close, Jones has blown 9 saves in his career and has exactly zero saves. If a team is going to have a successful 8th inning man, he has to be able to get out of some jams by not allowing the opposing hitter to make contact. With runners on base and less than two outs, that is critical.
If I were the White Sox, I would make sure Jones is going to be able to handle a full 162 game season before I put him into any key roles. Jones, along with the rest of the bullpen wore down towards the end of 2012 due to fatigue. Given a lot of that late-season fatigue was from throwing more innings than they had ever thrown. But there is a concern about putting Jones into a key role right off the bat. I think he could handle it, but keep in mind that Jones hasn’t pitched 70 innings at the MLB level since 2013.
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All in all, Jones has the ability to be successful in 2016, assuming he stays in good health. With a repaired elbow that should actually help him throw even harder this upcoming season, Jones will be fun to watch. My concern is that in the beginning he will have some command issues, which is why I would be cautious about putting him in the 8th inning role right away. If Jones proves to be healthy, and can handle the 8th inning role, I would advocate using him in that role. If not, it might be better for the Sox to use him as a 6th/7th inning reliever. Jones will need to be a key man in the bullpen in 2016. If he can revert back to his 2012 form, expect a solid Sox pen. At least that is what most Sox fans are hoping.