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Baltimore Orioles

Oriole of the Day: Patience, platoon splits show Jahmai Jones’ path to success

This week, Major League Baseball and its players’ union will meet daily to try to complete a new collective bargaining agreement.

The league has already elected to postpone the start of spring training games until at least March 5; at any point, the owners could choose to lift the lockout they unanimously implemented when the previous CBA expired and allow baseball season to begin. Instead, negotiations between the league and players over a collection of issues are threatening Opening Day, scheduled for March 31.

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In the meantime, the Orioles and other teams are unable to adjust their 40-man rosters or even acknowledge the players who are members of them. The Baltimore Sun can at least do the latter, and in the final stretch of its Oriole of the Day series, the Sun will take a close look at some of the youngest members of Baltimore’s 40-man roster. After this entry on infielder Jahmai Jones, the remaining players have yet to make their major league debuts.

Acquired before last season as the return from the Los Angeles Angels for veteran starter Alex Cobb, Jones largely struggled in his first year in the Orioles’ system. But there were signs he can still be a valuable piece for them moving forward.

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Quick hits

2022 Opening Day age: 24

2021 stats: .149/.208/.194, .402 OPS, 0 home runs, 36.1 K%, 5.6 BB%, minus-0.6 fWAR with the Orioles; .243/.337/.431, .768 OPS, 11 home runs, 23.1 K%, 11.9 BB% with Triple-A Norfolk

Under team control through: 2027

2021 in review

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Number to know: 71.8. In many ways, patience was the story of Jones’ 2021. Despite fans clamoring for him throughout the season, he had to wait until late August to make his Orioles debut. When he arrived, he was not a particularly aggressive hitter. Of players who were thrown at least 25 two-strike pitches in the zone, Jones swung the least often of any non-pitcher at 71.8%, according to Statcast. He struck out looking in 13 of his 72 plate appearances with Baltimore, though a few of those strike threes should’ve been called balls.

What was good: Jones’ Triple-A success against left-handed pitching bodes well for the possibility he at least becomes a solid platoon contributor. A right-handed hitter, Jones was more successful against opposite-handed pitchers at practically every stop of his minor league climb. That includes in 2021 with Norfolk, where he slashed .267/.364/.547 off lefties, good for a .911 OPS more than 200 points higher than he put up off right-handers. Although he posted similar walk rates in his platoon splits, his Triple-A strikeout rate against righties (26.1%) was more than 10% higher than his rate against lefties (15.9%). That trend carried into the majors; he had 17 strikeouts against one walk facing right-handers, compared to a 3-to-1 ratio off left-handers.

What wasn’t: Although he wasn’t necessarily banging on the door for a promotion with his bat, Jones’ wait to reach Baltimore largely had to do with his glove. The reasoning was apparent during his time with the Orioles. Of the 61 players with at least 75 defensive attempts at second base, Jones had the fourth-worst Outs Above Average and the lowest defensive success rate added, according to Statcast. Jones was exclusively an outfielder until 2018, and the Orioles gave him some Triple-A time in center and left, but his best path to playing time is on their infield. He’ll need to improve there to earn it.

Looking ahead to 2022

Likely 2022 role: Second base depth.

What’s projected: The Orioles’ signing of Rougned Odor added a veteran option to a group of infielders who, like Jones, otherwise had yet to establish themselves as major leaguers. Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías have shown they can play multiple positions, and although Kelvin Gutiérrez also only plays one position on the dirt, third base is a spot the Orioles have an even greater lack of depth. Jones could certainly play his way into the infield mix, though. Steamer doesn’t see much of a path to playing time for him, either, and neither it nor ZiPS — which doesn’t factor playing time into its projections — see him approaching league average as a hitter in 2022.

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A step forward: A lot of Jones’ offensive struggles derived from the sport’s most common pitch: four-seam fastballs. In at-bats that ended with a four-seamer, Jones went 1-for-26, a .038 average that was the lowest of any position player. Based on average run value — a Statcast metric that determines the situational impact of each pitch — the only players less valuable against four-seam fastballs than Jones were pitchers. Improved performance against that pitch alone, which Jones saw more than a third of the time in 2021, would surely boost his numbers.

Three up, three down

This series is ordered based on the WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster produced in 2021. For the remaining players, who have yet to reach the majors, they are ordered by when they were added to the 40-man roster and their prospect rankings. The past three players featured in the series were Ryan McKenna, Cionel Pérez and Kelvin Gutiérrez. The Orioles due up next are Yusniel Diaz, Rylan Bannon and DL Hall.


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