Jones on trade to Orioles and decision to play baseball

Jahmai Jones is getting most of his reps in Orioles camp at second base, with the occasional shifts coming to the outfield.

Jones, the former second-round draft pick acquired from the Angels in the Alex Cobb trade, brings a healthy level of experience at both positions and doesn’t care where he settles. He isn’t worried about the possibility of wearing a utility label.

Being a major leaguer is the identity that he craves. And like everything else in today’s Zoom conference call, he can explain it in a thoughtful and thorough manner.

The good makeup kid, as he’s been described by scouts and coaches, made a nice impression during his introduction to the media.

“I definitely feel comfortable at second,” said Jones, 23. “I made the transition in 2018 and that first year was a lot of early work, a lot of reps, really trying to figure out who I was going to be a second base and kind of letting go of the outfield a little bit that first year to really hang on to everything I could learn in the infield. And now a few years later, I do feel really comfortable there, and I definitely think at some point I will go back and forth between the outfield and the infield.

“But I definitely feel comfortable at second base and if that’s where they see my role being, I love it and I’m excited for it. Definitely excited and looking forward to it.”

Jones was informed of the Feb. 2 trade and kept showing up at Wesleyan School in Norcross, Ga., where he graduated, to assist with the baseball program. To counsel and coach the players. Any work that needed to be done.

To treat the days like any other despite the suddenness of the change in his professional life.

Jones-Swings-Angels-Sidebar.jpg“My first reaction was a little bit of shock,” Jones said. “It’s definitely something different if you’ve never been traded before, so receiving a phone call right after a workout and being told most likely later in the day that I’ll be traded to Baltimore, my first reaction was like, ‘Oh, man, I’m getting traded.’ But then right after that, after I kind of got over the initial shock factor of the phone call, I was really excited.

“I definitely knew this was an organization that wanted guys that were young, hungry players. Wanted guys that could be developed into great players and I definitely think I’m a good fit in this organization. And the team around me already has been great. The staff has been great. I’ve loved every minute of it so far.”

Athleticism is one of Jones’ featured tools and it enabled him to join almost everyone else in his family playing football until he quit after two years as a slot receiver in high school. His father, Andre, was a linebacker on Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship team and a seventh-round pick of the Detroit Lions. Brother T.J. was a wide receiver for the Lions and New York Giants. Brother Malachi is a receiver for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes.

“I definitely come from an athletic family,” Jones said. “I’ve had a lot of influence from them just from a young age. We were traveling to several different parks on the weekend for baseball and then Friday nights spending them at a high school watching football games. As we got older, Saturdays was going to (Appalachian) State, going to Notre Dame, to watch X-Y-Z game. And I really do think it helped me figure out who I wanted to be as a person. Being immersed in a football environment for so long, for having a father that played in college, played in the NFL, you definitely had a very big football influence in our household and obviously we all gravitated toward the sport because that’s what we were in the majority of the time.

“We were always told to kind of try different things out, try different sports. We all played football, basketball, baseball, and as I got older, I found myself gravitating more toward the baseball side. I loved football, I loved being around it. I loved the environment, the adrenaline you get on the baseball side. But I felt like if I were to play football, I’d constantly be compared to my brothers. I felt like my identity would kind of get lost in the mix. Just everything I do looks like this brother, he does it like this brother, and I didn’t want that for myself.

“I really wanted to make my own identity in this world and I knew that not everybody outside of my family and kind of inner circle would be on board with that. Everybody’s expecting me to play football, everyone’s expecting me to kind of do what the family did. Baseball, I just gravitated toward it. I absolutely loved it. I knew there was a difference because I love to go into baseball practice and I felt like that was where I really got the most stress release from.

“If I ever felt stressed or something like that, I wanted to do something baseball related. I wanted to go hit, I wanted to go take ground balls. I wanted to just be around the game. So I made the decision to stop playing football in high school. After talking with my family, everybody was on board.”

Approval wasn’t universal. Jones didn’t tabulate the votes.

“People in my community didn’t agree with it,” he said. “They didn’t see why I was doing this and I don’t really care. I didn’t need everybody to see what I saw. I didn’t need everybody to believe in me, because I knew at the end of the day this is what I wanted to do. This is where I put all my focus and time and effort into, so if they weren’t on kind of the metaphorical train, then they’re getting left behind.

“My entire family understood, my entire family agreed. They were kind of waiting for me to stop playing football, or when I would stop playing football, whenever it would be, because they knew I wanted to play baseball, so that was important to me. I had all their support and that was all I really needed. And I ultimately made the decision and thankfully here I am, so I think it paid off just a little bit so far.”

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is counted among the group believing that Jones picked the right sport.

“He’s very athletic,” Hyde said today. “I know that he worked a lot with the Angels people, a lot with Brian Butterfield last year. I talked to Butter a little bit about him. He’s got big tools, he’s really athletic, moves well. Now it’s just learning the position. He’s continuing his improvement at second base. I think it’s just going to be reps and a lot of one-on-one stuff that Anaheim did with him last year, we’re going to continue that because we believe in the athleticism.”

The Angels gave Jones a $1.1 million bonus and selected him as their Minor League Player of the Year in 2017 after he batted .282/.348/.446 with 29 doubles, seven triples, 14 home runs, 47 RBIs, 86 runs scored and 27 stolen bases in a combined 127 games between Single-A Burlington and Inland Empire.

The 2018 season brought some adversity, with Jones slashing a combined .239/.337/.380 in 123 games between Inland Empire and Double-A Mobile. He stayed with Mobile the following summer and batted .234/.308/.324 in 544 plate appearances - .275/.350/.373 in the second half - went 16-for-53 (.302) with an .886 OPS, five doubles and two home runs in 16 games in the Arizona Fall League, and was 3-for-7 with an RBI and two runs scored last September with the Angels.

“2019 was definitely a weird year,” Jones said. “I was dealing with a lot of swing changes and thankfully, by about All-Star break, I went back to what felt right to me, went back to what I felt like I could have the most success with and thankfully put it together. Had a good second half campaign pretty much from July to the end of the season and took it into the fall league and just continued to work, continued to do the things that I do well and really capitalized on the opportunity that I had to work.

“So knowing that, going into 2020, that spring training, I had a lot of fun. I was ready. And obviously getting cut short because of (coronavirus), but continued to work. I knew that we could be back in two weeks or we could be back in two months, so I was going to stay ready for the opportunity no matter what. And then when I got the call to come up to the 60-player pool, I got even more excited just because I knew that I was going to be not only around the normal 25-man roster all the time, being able to learn from those guys, being able to learn from the coaching staff, players, every single person up there, but I knew I was going to get a lot of reps to continue to work on things I do well. So it was definitely exciting.

“It was definitely more work than I would get in a normal season just because of how small the player pool is and how individualized things were when we were at Long Beach (at the alternate site), so I feel like I got my work in and it gave me an opportunity to continue to emphasize those good habits and really try to get rid of those bad habits in a game sense where it wasn’t technically going on the books, but you’re still competing as if it is. So for me it was a great environment and a great place to really work on the things I needed to work on.”

The middle infield might be set with Yolmer Sánchez at second base and Freddy Galvis at shortstop, but Jones is in camp to fight for a job. He’s as comfortable moving around the field as he is switching sports.

“I think it excites me,” Jones said. “Obviously, being able to play multiple positions gives you more opportunity to be on the field and on the club. A great example of that is Kiké Hernández. Played all over the place for the Dodgers, ended up hitting, ends up getting a contract to go to Boston to most likely play an everyday position somewhere. Ben Zobrist, there have been several guys who have come through that, have made a career off being able to play multiple positions, and I always felt like if I were to add multiple positions to my game, it would only help further progress me and put me ahead of certain people, because of the versatility that I bring to the table.

“Knowing that, it definitely excites me. I don’t think it deflates me at all, because who knows? Let’s say I end up hot start, hitting right from the jump. I find an everyday place, I find somewhere, whether that be left, center right, second, third, short, whatever it may be, it gives me an opportunity to be on the field and it gives me an opportunity if I’m bouncing around everywhere and playing well, it gives me a chance to help the team in several different ways rather than just being locked into one position and playing that one position the entire time. So I definitely think it’s something that is exciting and I’m open to doing, especially if it helps the team.

“If they want me to play left for two games, play center the next game, play second for four games, I’m perfectly fine with that. The minute I get on the field, no matter where I am, I’m going to play until the game’s over, so if that’s at various positions, I’m very excited for the opportunity.”

Hyde isn’t handing the second base job to Sánchez, who also will take grounders at third late in camp. Jones hasn’t been told that he’s unable to wrestle it away.

“He’s going to have a lot of at-bats, a lot of innings defensively,” Hyde said. “You’ve seen guys make clubs out of camp by having good springs. I haven’t seen him play ever, so I’m looking forward to watching him play. I’ve watched him take a couple days of ground balls and some BP earlier today. We’ll see what kind of camp he has and if we feel like he’s ready to break with us, he’s got a chance to make the club.”

Jones is leaving a team with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Anthony Rendon and playoff aspirations, and entering a massive rebuild project. Perhaps a better fit for a 23-year-old in search of an opportunity.

“I definitely think that being around these guys that are younger, we’re all on the same page,” he said. “Everybody understands each other, everybody understands the hunger. We are a younger team, but we’re ready to play with the best and we want to play with the best. That’s the vibe I get from the locker room, just being in it from the first few days, is that everybody wants to win over here. No matter what anybody says, no matter who counts us out, who doesn’t count us out. At the end of the day, we just want to win.

“If that’s with a young team, great, but we’re really leaning on one another. I’ve leaned already on a few guys since I’ve been here, so it’s definitely nice to have that. We have a lot of good players in this locker room, a lot of guys that I really can learn from. And being closer to them in age, they’ve been through similar experiences that I’m currently going through rather than the guys who were rooted and 10 years my senior. I have more guys that are two, three years older than me that last year they were in my shoes, so they can kind of walk through the process of everything I’m going through.

“I’m definitely excited to be here, I’m definitely excited for everything that’s going to happen this season and the coming seasons. It’s something that I do really feel comfortable. With the Angels I was able to learn from a lot of guys. We did have the Trouts, the Rendons, Pujols, (Justin) Upton - you can go down the lineup and it’s guys who have been around the game and had unbelievable success in the game and being able to learn from those guys was unbelievable. So from both sides of the spectrum I’m getting to learn two different things from two different people in two completely different scenarios.”

Notes: Managers have the option of shortening spring training games, if they agree to it, down to five or seven innings for the first few weeks. But Hyde expects to go the full nine in Sunday’s opener against the Pirates.

“I’m going to talk to the other manager morning of or the night before and see kind of where they are pitching-wise and let them know where we are,” Hyde said. “I would say the games are going to be close to nine innings, if not nine innings, the majority of the time because we have so many bodies and a lot of innings to go around.”

Hyde said the team has been able to avoid injuries in camp.

“Knock on wood, we’ve been really good from a health standpoint,” he said.

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