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Diamond In The Rough: Jahmai Jones

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Could this be the next prep superstar for the Halos?

The Angels farm system is known for a number of things, it produced the best player in the game in Mike Trout, had one of the best drafts of this time in 2009 when they selected Mike Trout, Randal Grichuk, Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin, and Garrett Richards, and was really the nucleus for all of the franchises success from the championship team in 2002, till the heartbreak against the New York Yankees in the 2009 ALCS. Tim Salmon (the original fish), Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad (the club’s last 1st overall pick in ’95), Troy Glaus, Jered Weaver, John Lackey, K-Rod’s elite emergence, Troy Percival, Aybar and Kendrick, the list goes on-and-on.

What it hasn’t been known for in the past 7 years, is being able to produce that same level of talent. Heck, sometimes it was just as simple as trading away all of that young talent in desperate “win-now” moves, or forfeiting 1st round picks to sign Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, and Josh Hamilton in consecutive years...shudders* Angels fans have seen homegrown players and prospects like Mike Napoli (groan), Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Jean Segura, Patrick Corbin, Randal Grichuk, Will Smith, Peter Bourjos, Sean Newcomb, and countless others go to other teams/systems and help win some ballgames. What have the Angels yielded from those returns? Vernon Wells and the $86 million owed to him, Jason Vargas, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery on the Royals, Zack Greinke who pitched for the Angels for two whole months, the middle relief “Designated Arsonist” Fernando Salas, and the only worthwhile one, Andrelton Simmons.

But this is not another doomsday post because I think there is a reason to check-in with the minor league affiliates every night, it all starts in Orem, Utah with 19-year old Jahmai Jones. Last years 70th overall, 2nd round pick is beginning to translate the athleticism that made him a standout slot receiver with a commitment to the University of North Carolina from Roswell, Georgia, into a stud, freshly minted 19-year old centerfield prospect. Seriously, calling him The Messiah almost doesn’t do him any justice. He even has the bloodlines to show for it, his father, the late Andre Jones, played linebacker on the ‘88 Notre Dame national championship team. One of his older brothers, T.J. Jones, plays wide receiver for the now “Megatron-less” Detroit Lions. Thank god he picked baseball. Here’s the article from the official website when the Angels drafted him last summer.

As I write this, Jahmai’s slash line is sitting pretty at .319/.405/.462/.866 in the Pioneer League, that’s pretty phenomenal when you think about the fact that he’s still about 2 years younger than the average competition there and he really didn’t solely focus on baseball until he got drafted last June. It’s not even the raw slash line that impresses, he leads the league in runs with 48, he’s second in the league in stolen bases with 17, and even received the starting nod to play centerfield for the Pioneer League All-Star team, where he went 2-2 with a double and walk, here’s a link to the full game review. His walks and strikeouts are nearly identical (21 BB’s against 27 K’s) which, again, is pretty amazing considering that fact that he is still viewed as “raw” by most traditional scouting standards. But it’s not from experience and reps alone, Jahmai gets great marks for his makeup, work ethic, and the head on his shoulders, more good things to hear about a 19-year old who is still trying to get better. He even says all of the right things, look at a couple of quotes from an interview he did with Sam Dykstra from MiLB.com when asked about some of his developments and growth so far.

"I've changed most as a player physically, I think," he said. "I've gotten stronger. I've focused on certain parts of my body that need to be better than others. But I've also changed the way I think about things, the way I work my pregame prep, even my in-game prep.... I'm thinking about all the possible outcomes at all times now, like making sure what base I needed to throw to if, say, the ball's in the gap or if it's hit to another player, what base I need to be backing up. I'm thinking about everything before it happens."

"I'm a young guy. I know they don't want to rush me. So I'm trying to enjoy the game and focus everything I can to win a championship where I am, whether that's the Pioneer League or [Class A] Burlington. Every day I've come with that mindset."

Here’s the full interview, it’s definitely worth the read.

Give that man a promotion to Burlington already! (Kinda serious)

So Jahmai’s numbers look pretty legitimate on the surface, it looks like he does everything well. He plays an important and tough position in centerfield very well, his speed and athleticism make him capable of staying there long term, with Mike Trout being the only visible thing in sight that’s stopping him from roaming center for the Halos for the next decade. He’s got a good idea of what he’s doing at the plate in terms of discipline, he’s hitting in general, but keeping a consistent approach that helps him get on-base at the top of the order and wreak havoc on the bases with his plus speed (although you would ideally like to see him improve those stolen bases percentages, while he has stolen 17, he’s been caught 6 times. It’s a 74% success rate, but you want that number north of 80% to justify getting the greenlight to steal in the Big Leagues). He says all the right things and gets great marks for his makeup, so what should we look for as he progresses and tries to make his game as airtight as possible? I think the answer might be when you look at his homerun total of 3 and his rather, I don’t want to say pedestrian, slugging percentage of .462, he does have 11 doubles and 3 triples to go along with the dingers, but that’s probably the area you’d look at and be surprised he’s not hitting more of them. He’s more a line-drive hitter trying to make consistent, hard contact.

Here’s him swinging the bat, one in batting practice last year, the other in a game from July. You can see what I mean. He’s smoking the ball still, just not really swinging up, creating loft, and trying to have it clear the fences. I’ll explain why this is fine in a second.

The Angels had another toolsy prep centerfield prospect that made more of a concerted effort to make hard contact and didn’t “wow” with his power numbers throughout the minor leagues, that player was Mike Trout. Trout’s highest homerun totals in the minors, were 10 in his age-18 season in 508 at-bats between Cedar Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga, and 11 in his age-19 season with Arkansas in 353 at-bats (admittedly in a very big pitchers park with the Travelers). Still, that’s 326 and 171 more at-bats than Jahmai has gotten this year. Oh, and it’s Mike Trout, it is important to remember his greatness and how he was on a totally different level than other prospects. I am by no means comparing the two as players, just simply trying to offer some hope for those who would like to see Jahmai hit for more power. Give him some time, he’s still growing and getting stronger, the important thing for him is to hit and get on base like Mike. The power will come, and it may not translate to 30+ homeruns, but it’ll be good enough to be a thorn in the side of opposing pitchers.

Check out this story from last year about an old scouting report on Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, interesting to see how they projected Trout at the time. And for those of you who are too “GA” to read it, it’s a comparison to Craig Biggio.

Obviously with prep players their development takes a little more time and the Angels will take the precautionary route with Jones. He’ll most likely finish the year in Orem, start out the year in Burlington, with hopes of a promotion to Inland Empire if all goes well, and then the big step to Arkansas most likely awaiting in 2018. I posted Trout’s minor league numbers here. The timeline for Jones should be 2019 or 2020 when he will be entering his age-21 or 22 seasons. Remember he’s just a baby, it’s only his second season in professional ball, this is still just his age-18 season, he just turned 19 last week, and he is still learning and growing, both as a player and person. Temper expectations, but don’t be afraid to get excited about him. This guy has star talent we could see in an outfield patrolled by Trout and Jones for years to come, and I’m loving watching his ascent through the minors almost as much as Trout. If there is one guy who can finally crack the Top 100 prospect rankings, make Baseball America take the farm system seriously again, or at the least, give us the hope and knowledge that some help is on the way, it’s Jones. Although we will talk about Matt Thaiss another day, Jahmai Jones is the diamond in the rough in this seemingly vacuous Angels farm system and I hope through this series, I can shine a light on some young talent that gets glazed over because of the general consensus and outside perspective on the current state of the farm.

And real quick, I would just like to thank Josh for giving me the opportunity to contribute to Halos Heaven in an even bigger capacity, I love talking Angels Baseball even when they stink up the joint, but I hope I can provide some interesting topics and conversations, maybe even inspire a positive outlook once in a while (I know, what a concept). Feel free to still call me “M8” if you feel the need, I’ll still respond to it ;)