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New Orioles infielder Jahmai Jones hopes ‘good fit,’ development lead to big league chance

Orioles second baseman Jahmai Jones was surprise to be traded to the Orioles, but is encouraged for the opportunity to play.

Jahmai Jones knows something about a drastic transition. Growing up in a football family with a father and brother who played in the NFL, he had to leave that behind to fully pursue baseball.

A top-100 prospect as a center fielder in the Los Angeles Angels farm system, he spent the 2018 season adjusting to second base to make himself more of a versatile big league option. He had to abandon a series of swing changes midway through the 2019 season to get back to what felt most comfortable.

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After using the development opportunities available to him in 2020 to help propel him to his major league debut, Jones has taken his offseason trade to the Orioles in stride. He hopes to make a strong impression to be on the team come Opening Day in his first spring training camp with the organization.

“Once I kind of got over the initial shock factor of the phone call, I was really excited,” Jones said Wednesday. “I definitely knew this was an organization that wanted guys that were young, hungry players. They wanted guys that could be developed into great players and I definitely feel like I’m a good fit for this organization.”

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Jones, 23, is going to be a big part of the Orioles future after he was the main prospect acquired for right-hander Alex Cobb in a trade earlier this month with the Angels. Manager Brandon Hyde said Jones’ first Orioles camp will be about continuing to learn at second base and getting as much action as possible to try and make the team.

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

While former Gold Glove winner Yolmer Sánchez is penciled in as the starter at second base, Hyde didn’t close the door on possibly having Jones on the team as well.

“I just think that he’s going to have a lot of at-bats, a lot of innings defensively, and I think that you’ve seen guys make clubs out of camp by having good springs,” he said. “I haven’t seen him play — ever. So I’m looking forward to watching him play.”

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The Jones he will see is the product of constant evolution on the field. He said he grew up playing football just like his family did, but wanted to carve out his own identity and path in life and left that behind in high school for baseball.

“I just gravitated toward it,” he said. “I absolutely loved it. I kind of knew there was a difference because I loved going to 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’d want to do something baseball related. I wanted to go hit. I wanted to go take ground balls. I wanted to just go be around the game.”

After the Angels drafted him, he shot up top prospect lists, but his position change in 2018 and the swing issues in 2019 held him back some. But he said around the beginning of July, he “went back to what felt right” and things took off. He hit .292 with a .761 OPS from that point on and carried that good work into the Arizona Fall League.

Jones was at big league camp with the Angels when things shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, and he made the most of the team’s secondary training site in Long Beach, California, he said.

“When I got the call to come out to the 60 player pool, I got even more excited 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 and being able to learn from the coaching staff and players, every single person up there — but I knew I was going to get a lot of reps to continue to work on the things that I do well,” Jones said.

“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. So I definitely feel like I got my work in and it definitely 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’s not technically going on the books, but you’re still competing as if it is. For me, it was a great environment and a great place really to work on the things that I thought I really needed to work on.”

Jones relished the chance to get to make his major league debut alongside Angels stars Mike Trout and Albert Pujols and took in everything he could about how those future Hall of Fame players prepared. He’s equally excited to be part of a young, up-and-coming Orioles team.

“The team around me already has been great,” Jones said. “The staff has been great and I’ve loved every minute of it so far.”

Spring training opener

PIRATES@ORIOLES

Sunday, 1:05 p.m.

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