You know the summer is moving quickly — in spite of the state of the Orioles — when you look at the calendar and there are less than two weeks until the All-Star game. And if you’re a glass-half-full kind of person you can appreciate the Midsummer Classic a bit more than usual, considering how Trey Mancini will participate in the Home Run Derby after his much-publicized battle with cancer last year, and how Cedric Mullins’ underdog story has brought his first career All-Star selection within reach.
Showcasing Orioles players on such a big stage also draws attention to their availability. It reminds us that the few standout players on this team probably aren’t destined to be around much longer. A few days ago Camden Chat’s own Drew Bonifant touched on a few potential Orioles trade chips. There are a lot of games being played behind the scenes this time of the season between rival executives, and trade news breaks fast.
Taking away a piece or two from the everyday lineup tends to have a ripple effect on other positions as well. So if the O’s hypothetically trade one DH/1B/OF type, that doesn’t mean the open roster spot won’t be filled with someone entirely different from the minors, like a middle infielder.
Another reality of reaching this point in the season is that teams entertain the thought of promoting minor leaguers more seriously. We’ve already seen a flurry of promotions within the minor league system in the past several weeks, including Gunnar Henderson and a couple of Kyles (Brnovich and Stowers) getting bumped up a level. And while we witness the Norfolk shuttle of pitchers move back and forth constantly every year, it’s almost time for management to start swapping out underperforming major league players for high-performing minor league players.
That brings us to one of the more intriguing high-level players in the Orioles’ system right now, Jahmai Jones. He missed about three and a half weeks earlier this year — from May 14 through June 8 — with a strained oblique. But even with all that time missed, Jones has been able to put himself on the map down in Triple-A with his play.
Injury adversity has not put a damper on Jones’ 2021 triple-slash line, which is .276/.407/.483 through 23 games with the Norfolk Tides. He’s got 24 hits in 87 at-bats, including five doubles, two triples, and three home runs. While batting at or near the top of the Triple-A lineup, Jones has scored 15 runs and tallied 17 RBI. He’s also been successful on four of five stolen base attempts.
And guess what? He walks. Jones’ walk-to-strikeout ratio is one of the most impressive parts of his game. He currently has one more walk than strikeouts in 2021 at 19 to 18. He’s shown solid plate discipline in the past, and it’s good to see him take that skill to another level this year. Whenever there’s a chance for the O’s to add OBP to the lineup, they should take it.
At the same time, it’s fair to wonder where Jones profiles on the field. After being drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft, Jones spent the first three years of his professional career playing outfield in the Los Angeles Angels minor league system. Then he played second base exclusively in 2018, and in 2019 he spent the majority of his time at second with occasional outfield appearances.
The most obvious place to put Jones in Baltimore right now is the keystone. He’s played there more than any other position over the past several years and in case you haven’t noticed, the O’s need serious help in that spot. The club has used five different players at second so far this year, and collectively, they’ve got a .191/.250/.285 triple-slash line through 267 at-bats.
In Jones’ first year under the wing of Orioles player development, he’s gotten 17 starts at second base, four in left field, and two at designated hitter.
At the tail end of the game last night, third baseman Maikel Franco limped off the field after going down awkwardly in pursuit of a foul ball caught by Ryan McKenna for the final out. The Birds could need another infielder as soon as tomorrow after that play, and just because Jahmai Jones doesn’t play third doesn’t mean they can’t shift other guys around. Current infielders Ramon Urias and Domingo Leyba have enough versatility to make room for Jones somewhere.
On the plus side, the O’s just swept the Astros in Houston. But fans still need any excuse to tune into the ballgames these days, so adding a young player like Jahmai Jones to the major league roster would be a nice start.