It’s about that time.
The Orioles are rapidly approaching the point of the season where they take a look at some fresh players. While players like Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez remain a step away, a few prospects are knocking on the door. With the season lost long ago, Baltimore may soon feel inclined to let them in.
The Orioles acquired Jahmai Jones in a deal that sent veteran starter Alex Cobb to the Angels. Jones played in three games for Los Angeles and picked up three hits in seven at bats, but no one could blame Baltimore for not immediately placing him on the 26-man roster.
MLB.com currently ranks Jones as Baltimore’s 16th best prospect. He began the season with Triple-A Norfolk, but was placed on the injured list in mid-May with a strained oblique. Jones played in only six games prior to the injury.
Jones became active June 8 and immediately started hitting. In another multi-hit effort, Jones extended his current hit streak to nine games last night against Durham. Jones finished 3-4 and blasted his third home run of the young season. The performance raised his average to .310.
Jones will turn 24 on August 4. While he has limited experience at Triple-A, he spent 2020 training at the Angels’ alternate site. There is no glaring need or weakness that would require him to extend his stay at Triple-A. There have been whispers about his defense at second base, but there does not appear to be major cause for concern. Jones is athletic, and his defensive versatility—he can play all three outfield positions— would allow for some roster flexibility.
The Orioles are not worried about injecting a spark into the lineup, but the arrival of Jones would. They should care if Jones would represent an improvement over Stevie Wilkerson or Pat Valaika right now, but the club knows a marginal improvement at second base will not offset the team’s struggles.
The Orioles value development and talent evaluation. The time to evaluate Jones’ play at the major league level has arrived.
Recent waiver claim Domingo Leyba joined Jones at Norfolk last week. Leyba went deep in back-to-back games, and tallied another hit last night. He spread out a brutal 0-22 stretch over 13 games for the last place Diamondbacks. Baltimore pounced when Arizona waived the 25-year-old.
Leyba has mashed Triple-A pitching throughout his career. He slashed .457/.486/.914 over eight games with Reno this season, and posted a .300/.351/.519 slash line over 112 games in 2019. Leyba received an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s performance enhancing drug regulations back in 2020, but that fact alone did not scare off the Orioles.
Leyba is not the type of player the Orioles will stash on the farm for a few years. The Orioles must determine if he deserves his current spot on the 40-man. Given his track record at Triple-A, the only thing left is for Leyba to prove it in the bigs.
Like Jones, Leyba could immediately slide into the rotation at second base. Stevie Wilkerson appears to be approaching the end of the road, and Pat Valaika will not factor into the next winning club in Baltimore. Even if Baltimore feels Jones needs more time at Triple-A, the organization could cross evaluating Leyba off its list before the All Star break.
Norfolk is littered with players that appear on pace to make a debut this season. Yusniel Diaz kicked off a rehab assignment last night and should rejoin the Tides by the end of the week. Alexander Wells posted another impressive start after a few rocky appearances at the beginning of the year. Rylan Bannon should heal up at some point, and even starters Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith could make a case if they continue their recent dominance.
While those prospects trickle through, there is no reason the Orioles cannot get started right away. Jones or Leyba would fill a need at second and serve a purpose toward the rebuild. If the club requires Jones to prove it long term at Triple-A, Leyba would fit the bill.
It’s natural to yearn for prospects at this point in the season. The Orioles have bumped several minor league players up a level already this year, and the organization should be thrilled with the performance of several top prospects. Jones and Leyba do not represent the future of the franchise, but they appear to be next in line for an audition on the next winning club.