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The only outfielders to ever win a Gold Glove Award with the Colorado Rockies are Larry Walker (1997-99, 2001-02) and Carlos González (2010, 2012-13). Neither played center field — Walker played in right field and González in left field during those seasons — and the two never played together.
The 2023 Rockies have one of the better defensive outfield duos in club history in Brenton Doyle and Nolan Jones, and one is already considered to be one of the best center fielders the organization has seen in some time.
“I think Brenton’s probably the best defensive center fielder since I’ve been here,” said Bud Black, Colorado’s manager since the start of the 2017 season.
In either right or left field is Jones, a player still learning how to play on the grass after a lifetime on the dirt.
“This is relatively new to him. It just depends on what you want to define relative as — but 25 years old, infielder out of the draft, infielder in the minor leagues, converted now (to outfield). He’s learning and he’s a hard worker with good work capacity, so he can work a long time to get reps and he’s doing great,” Black shared. “He’ll continue to get better.”
Seemingly on each road trip and at least once per homestand, the defensive prowess of the pair has been on display for the baseball world to discover. Doyle made his mark first within his first few weeks as a big leaguer. Following a home run on his 25th birthday, he hit two homers and made two dazzling catches in center field during a one-run victory over the Cincinnati Reds on May 15.
Jones did it one night after a walk-off home run against the San Diego Padres on June 11. In front of a sold out crowd at Fenway Park against the Red Sox, the 25-year-old robbed a critical home run from Rafael Devers in a 2-2 ballgame before Colorado won it 4-3 in extra innings.
We're running out of great things to say about Nolan Jones…
But we're not complaining! pic.twitter.com/mJwMRXw6YG
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) June 13, 2023
Naturally, Doyle had to leave Boston with his own web gem.
All the while, the two have been throwing out base runners left and right (and center, so to speak). Both entered the series at home with the Arizona Diamondbacks with seven outfield assists earlier this week, something only Brad Hawpe and Cory Sullivan of the 2005 Rockies had ever accomplished as rookies.
In the span of less than 24 hours, Jones would have three outfield assists, two of which came at home plate. During Wednesday’s 9-7 loss to the Dbacks, he had a pair in back-to-back innings to give him 10 on the season and tie him with Hawpe for most by a rookie in franchise history. Remarkably, all have come since June 21 over the span of 45 games.
The similarity between Hawpe and Jones extends beyond the statistics. Hawpe, an All-Star in 2009, was drafted as a first baseman in the 2000 MLB Draft. He played there throughout the minors before moving to the outfield due to the presence of a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and three-time Gold Glove Award winner named Todd Helton.
It took time for Hawpe’s development, but Sullivan had a firsthand experience beside him. After 10 outfield assists as a rookie in 101 games, Hawpe followed up with 16 over 150 games, second-most for Colorado in a single season.
“I think as he learned to get long, he developed better,” Sullivan said. “He could throw the ball infinitely harder than I could.”
Jones still has a way to go before he earns praise as one of the best corner outfielders his manager has witnessed. Gerardo Parra and González came to mind for Black, as well as Ian Desmond for his pure athleticism when asked about his seven seasons as the club’s skipper.
😱NOLAN JONES 472 FEET TO END THE GAME pic.twitter.com/CxilXikIM5
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) June 11, 2023
When describing a play that caused Jones to smash against the wall in center field on Tuesday, Black gave some interesting praise to Jones that’s an even stronger indicator of his potential going forward.
“When you’re running a long way and that ball is in the air a long time and you’re tracking it and you’re getting near the wall and you make a play, that was outstanding. And then how about the throw,” Black said. “Strong throw. Bo Jackson, remnants of that one. All the way from almost the left field corner in the air. Good play.”
As talented as Doyle and Jones are as individuals, the sum of their parts make the overall outfield defense even better. Michael Toglia, another 25-year-old outfielder who frequents right field, said the presence of Doyle in center allows him to shade closer to the line in order to cut down on some doubles. It should also reduce some triples at Coors Field, a place prone to more three-base hits than any other in MLB. “They’ve got absolutely rockets for arms,” Toglia said of the duo.
Even with all the praise, Jones recognizes there’s more room for improvement. He puts in valuable work during batting practice and is grateful for the opportunity to play every day, something he mentions in nearly every interview.
— Purple Row (@PurpleRow) August 16, 2023
“Having a decent arm has helped me a lot in the outfield because people don’t abuse me as much as being a new guy out there because sometimes my routes aren’t as great or I’m not getting behind the ball as well as I would like to,” Jones shared. “I think there’s constant learning out there, but having the arm tool definitely helps me.”
For Doyle, it’s all about being aggressive. “You can’t really take any route too lightly,” he said. “You got to really bust your butt to the ball because up here, the ball could take off a little bit more like it wouldn’t in other places.”
There was never more evident than on May 25 when the Virginia native went back on a fly ball off the bat of Jorge Soler in the top of the ninth. Doyle appeared to rob a home run before slamming into the wall with such force that the impact could be heard in the press box 500 ft away just as the ball came out of his mitt. Though shaken up and carted off the field, he came away with only a contusion to his right knee. He was back in action three days later without the need for a stint on the injured list.
Knee contusion is the only known injury for #Rockies Brenton Doyle on that scary collision with the wall.
“It’s gonna take a few days to feel better… I’m happy we ended up winning the ballgame,” Doyle said post-game.
— Patrick Lyons (@PatrickDLyons) May 25, 2023
Baseball Savant rates Jones as being below average (-3 Outs Above Average) when it comes to range while Sports Info Solutions (+6 Defensive Runs Saved) shows him to be above average. Thanks to the data we now have on thrown balls, it is inarguable that his arm is the best in the sport at 98.3 MPH on average.
Doyle checks off both areas incredibly well. He averages 95.6 MPH per throw, seventh-best among all outfielders and tops in center field, and has two of the three hardest throws by a center fielder in the Majors this season, both over 100 MPH. That has him placed in the 98th percentile of all players. His range is in the 97th percentile according to Baseball Savant, and he’s first at the position in the National League with 9 OAA and 10 DRS.
Brenton Doyle and Nolan Jones are quite the tandem in the outfield.
— Patrick Lyons (@PatrickDLyons) August 16, 2023
As Jones continues to learn the corners, Doyle’s presence and ability to cover ground in center will provide further comfort for Jones. Together, their chemistry could earn each man a Gold Glove Award before too long.
“We joke around a lot out there and we try to stay as relaxed out there as much as possible,” Doyle said. “Coors is known for its difficult outfield, but we make the most of it and have a good time with it.”
In a very short amount of time this season, the highlight reel for Doyle and Jones has grown immensely. Each man’s candidacy to be a finalist for the Gold Glove Award is apparent and for Doyle, it should be a no-brainer if it continues down the same path this season.
Will they ever ascend to the heights of Walker and CarGo in the outfield? As with all things in baseball, only time will tell.