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Orioles 2021 prospect preview: Jahmai Jones

The young second baseman and sometimes outfielder was added in the offseason to improve the club’s positional depth up the middle, and he seems to be on the cusp of the majors this year.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles’ Jahmai Jones diving for a ground ball at Ed Smith Stadium.
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

To explain how Jahmai Jones got into the Orioles system, starting pitcher Alex Cobb has to be mentioned as well. The former Tampa Bay Ray signed a four-year, $57 million contract with the O’s in March of 2018 but never lived up to expectations, registering a 5.10 ERA and 1.42 WHIP over the course of 41 games started.

This past offseason, Cobb seemed destined to fill the veteran innings-eater role in the Orioles rotation on account of having very little trade value. That’s what made it surprising when only a few months ago, the Angels gave up a minor league player the caliber of Jahmai Jones in exchange for Cobb.

Jones is a former 2nd round draft pick — out of college preparatory school Wesleyan in Gwinnett County, GA — of the Los Angeles Angels in 2015.

Professional sports run in the Jones family, with his late father and older brother having played in the NFL. Growing up in that household, it’s no wonder he’s highly regarded for his mental approach to the game.

MLB Pipeline ranked Jones as the Angels second best prospect in 2016, fourth best in 2017-2018, and fifth best in 2019. The publication also gave him “extremely high marks for his work ethic and makeup, both on and off the field.”

The same folks ranked Jones the 19th best prospect in the O’s system this year while noting that his future with the O’s is likely at second base.

He played the keystone in high school before the Angels moved him to the outfield. Jones played the outfield exclusively in the Angels minor league system from 2015 -2017. It wasn’t until 2018 when Jones starting appearing at second base again.

When Jones was traded to Baltimore in February, his defensive position was a popular discussion topic among Oriole fans. The Birds are well stocked with outfielders, and that group is considered a team strength. Infield on the other hand — particularly second base — has a lot of moving parts right now.

His first taste of professional ball came with the Rookie-level Arizona League Angels in 2015. With 183 plate appearances in 40 games, Jones hit .244./330/.344 with two home runs. He had 17 walks versus 33 strikeouts and 16 stolen bases out of 23 attempts.

For the next three years in a row, Jones split his season between two minor league levels.

His 2016 season started with 48 games in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, where he hit .321/.404/.459 with three home runs and a .864 OPS. He showed strong strike zone awareness as an 18-year-old by earning 21 walks and only striking out 28 times.

Jones also had a short stint with Single-A Burlington (16 games) in 2016. But the promotion, although brief, saw his triple-slash line slump to .242/.294/.306.

At Burlington in 2017, Jones improved on his numbers from the tail end of the prior season. He had nine home runs, swiped 18 of 25 attempted stolen bases, and worked 32 walks versus 63 strikeouts. Before moving up to high Single-A, Jones’ batting line stood at .272/.338/.425/.763 in 86 games.

While playing for Inland Empire in the second half of 2017, Jones put up some of his best numbers yet, getting on base at a .368 clip while batting .302 with a .488 SLG and .857 OPS. Over those 41 games, Jones also hit five home runs and stole nine bases while getting caught six times.

It’s important to note that Jones played second base exclusively between Single-A, Double-A, and the Arizona Fall League in 2018. Before that, the Angels had been cycling him through all three outfield positions.

In 2018, Jones spent time at both Single and Double-A. In 75 games with Inland Empire, he hit .235/.338/.383/.721 with 8 HR, 13 SB, 3 CS, 43 BB, and 63 SO. After his promotion to Mobile, Jones hit .245/.335/.375/.710 with 2 HR, 11 SB, 1 CS, 24 BB, and 51 SO in 48 games.

Playing in the Arizona Fall League in 2018 and 2019, Jones did well for himself by slashing .321/.400/.500 and .302/.377/.509, respectively.

In between those two Fall League stints, Jones played in 130 games for Double-A Mobile, hitting .234/.308/.324 with five home runs, 22 doubles, three triples, and a .631 OPS. He was also successful on nine of 20 stolen base attempts.

The youngster his major league debut with Angels on August 31, 2020, at age 23. In minimal exposure, he went 3-for-7 at the plate.

A lot still has to go right for Jones to capitalize on his skill set, but when the young second baseman is on, he’s a solid hitter with average-to-above-average on-base skills. And yeah, he can also steal some bags.

Maybe there’s more power hiding in his bat, but he hasn’t shown much so far with a .386 slugging percentage over the course of his five-year minor league career. On the plus side, he also has an on-base percentage that’s 80 points higher than his batting average.

Consistent gap-to-gap power would elevate his offensive profile, but that may not be likely. He has 491 career hits in the minors, and more than two-thirds of those have been singles.

As far as Jones’ ceiling as a ballplayer, there’s a chance he could be an everyday second baseman if everything works out. Along with that, he could potentially bat at the top of the order with more polish added to his game.

A super-utility role is another possible outcome for Jones if he doesn't hit enough, considering his ability to play both the infield and outfield.

Youth and controllability are two bigs things that Jones has going for himself. According to Baseball-Reference, he isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2024, and the earliest he can become a free agent is 2027.

All signs point to Jones getting a shot in the majors sometime this year. Baltimore will want to see if he’s got what it takes to be a long-term piece for them. But since we have to wait until May for the minor league season to start, it will be hard to suss out any development updates for a bit longer.

Taking a look at the O’s current situation at second base, it’s come down to Ramon Urias and the slumping Rio Ruiz. It’s hard to believe both of those guys will be splitting second base duties by the end of the year.

Jones is in his lower 20s, has a pedigree, has had a cup of coffee in the bigs already, and fills a positional need for the Birds. So expect to see him relatively soon, although I would predict we don’t see him in Baltimore until mid-May at the earliest unless he’s called up due to an injury.