After Falling Short As A Player, Jaime Jones Rises Again As An Ascendant Scout


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At some point in every day, Jaime Jones feels the pangs of regret.

He doesn’t know when they’ll hit, but inevitably they do. They are the regrets of not having the major league career expected, of not putting in the work to fulfill his potential.

Jones was the sixth overall pick in the 1995 draft by the Marlins out of Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego. To this day, longtime scouts and coaches still consider him one of the greatest amateur players they’ve ever seen.

“If you compare the guys around him like Troy Glaus or Eric Chavez, he was as good or better than both those guys in high school,” said Dodgers vice president of scouting David Finley, who worked for the Marlins at the time and was one of Jones’ signing scouts. 

“I signed Adrian Gonzalez. He was super advanced. Chavez I knew really well. I actually threw a lot of BP to him when he was in high school. Jaime was as good or better than both of those guys.”

But Jones never reached the major leagues, the outfielder’s career sabotaged by injuries and, in his own words, immaturity. For most of his adult life, he’s had to live with being known as one of the greatest draft disappointments of the last 30 years.

Slowly but surely, Jones is changing that. Today he is 46 years old and a Rays area scout in Southern California who has emerged as one of the best and most respected scouts in the talent-rich region. Where once his name inspired heavy sighs and what-could-have-been soliloquies, it now garners respect and admiration.

Jones’ success as a scout doesn’t fully patch the wounds from his failures as a player. Nothing ever will. But it has brought him some semblance of peace, and given him a chance to rewrite his baseball legacy.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” Jones said of his playing career. “But as far as scouting, I’m still in the game. And that’s all I can really ask for.”


Jones was one of those gifted players for whom baseball always came easy. From a young age, he was often the best player on the field with little effort.

“The first time I went out for Little League, I was 6 or 7 years old,” Jones said. “And, you know, they toss you the ball and you got to hit it. I remember I hit one back at the pitcher . . . and I remember them coming out on the field saying ‘woah’ because they thought I was older.

“I wasn’t bigger. I just hit the ball harder. I did everything kind of faster. And it was like ‘No, he’s age appropriate.’ It was kind of like that way all the way through.”

By the time Jones completed eighth grade, he was playing summer ball with the Rancho Bernardo varsity team. At 14, he was hitting line drives off Double-A and Triple-A pitchers while playing for the Astros’ scout team.

Veteran scouts still talk about Jones’ performance at the 1994 Area Code Games as one of the greatest individual showings they’ve ever seen. Playing on the same field as the best high school players in the country, Jones stood head and shoulders above the rest.

“He could do everything you were looking for as an outfield prospect,” said longtime Southern California area scout Mark Ralston, who now works for the Mets. “Run, throw, hit, hit for power. He could run a ball down in the outfield. He had a lot of ability. He was definitely one of the most talented guys I’ve ever run across.”

“Quite frankly, he was a guy who might have been a first-round pick as a pitcher, as well,” said Rays senior scouting advisor R.J. Harrison, who was an area scout for the Mets at the time. “He was a good-looking player.”

In his senior year at Rancho Bernardo, Jones hit .452 with 12 home runs, 32 RBIs and 26 stolen bases and went 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA on the mound. The lefthanded hitter and thrower set the San Diego County career home run record (since broken) and was named California Interscholastic Federation co-player of the year.

Between 1992 and ’97, the list of high school baseball players in San Diego County included Chavez, Glaus, Mark PriorBarry ZitoJacque JonesCarlos QuentinHank Blalock and Marcus Giles. Jones outperformed—and was drafted higher out of high school—than all of them.

“(His swing) was all the things you were looking for,” Ralston said. “It was balanced. It was fast. He adjusted to pitches in different parts of the zone. He kind of looked like Christian Yelich years before Christian Yelich, but Jaime had better tools.”

The Marlins made Jones the first high school position player drafted in 1995. He signed for $1.337 million, the second-highest bonus in the draft behind only No. 1 overall pick Darin Erstad.

Jones was just 18, but expectations were already sky high.

“We’re looking forward to him playing at Joe Robbie Stadium,” then-Marlins scouting director Gary Hughes said at Jones’ introductory press conference. “We think he’s a five-tool player who will move quickly through the organization.”


Jones’ natural ability had always been his greatest gift. Once he turned pro, it became his greatest curse.

Jones rarely lifted weights growing up. The idea of a conditioning program was a foreign concept. He was so naturally talented that success had always come with little effort.

The Marlins gave their minor league players a booklet with a weight training program to follow in the offseason. Jones, fresh off a solid pro debut in short-season leagues, ignored it.

When he arrived for his first spring training in Melbourne, Fla., in 1996, Jones was 20 pounds overweight. It would become a recurring problem.

“I came into the season out of shape,” Jones said. “I think that first year I literally did nothing. I literally show up to big league camp like they probably would back in 1920, where I just showed up overweight.”

Jones began his first full season at Low-A Kane County and struggled for the first time in his life. Playing in freezing temperatures of the Midwest League, Jones hit .249/.299/.430 with eight home runs in 62 games. Just when the right fielder felt like was finding his stride, he suffered a season-ending broken wrist when he collided with the first baseman charging in on a shallow fly ball.

Instead of taking his struggles as a wakeup call, Jones instead sulked about his time in Kane County. Again, he showed up to spring training the next year out of shape.

“I was a pretty immature kid,” Jones said. “I went about it in a pretty immature way. And it was just like one of the most miserable experiences that I ever had.

“I always got by with my athleticism, and I think those first couple of years kind of set the trend for my whole career. Injuries and kind of just wasting that youthful, like, ‘This is your time.’ I kind of let that time just kind of pass by.”

Jones fared respectably at High-A Brevard County in 1997 but was limited to 95 games by a fractured hip. He missed time with a cracked vertebra at Double-A Portland in 1998 but still performed well enough that the Marlins added him to their 40-man roster in the offseason.

But Jones fell flat at Triple-A Calgary in 1999. He was dropped to the bottom of the order and started being replaced by pinch-hitters. He clashed with his manager and found himself on the bench increasingly often. Midway through the year he separated his right shoulder diving for a ball down the line. He was demoted to Double-A and re-separated his shoulder diving back to first base on a pickoff attempt. 

The Marlins outrighted Jones off their 40-man roster after the season. By that point, injuries and the mental toll of his struggles had robbed him of his love for the game.

“I didn’t really enjoy being at the park,” Jones said. “I think I lost my identity for who I was as a player and kind of my purpose. I’d never felt so far away from my goals playing in the big leagues. It was miserable. The end of the ’90s, baseball-wise, it was a dark place.”

Jones spent two more seasons at Double-A with the Marlins. He played just 50 games in 2000 after separating his shoulder again and being hit by a pitch that broke his hand. In 2001, he hit .202 with one home run in 31 games before the Marlins released him.

​When Jones was released, an unnamed Marlins official blasted him in the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

“He lost his desire to play,” the official said. “He found out he could live off the interest from his bonus and never did the things he needed to do to get better. He’s a really gifted athlete, but while some guys find a way to make it, he never did.”

More than 20 years later, the comment still irks Jones.

“I think it’s funny that someone would write something about living off the interest of your bonus when I didn’t even know what the interest of my bonus was at the time,” Jones said. 

“I don’t know if it’s, ‘Kick him when he’s down,’ but I just didn’t really see the point.”

Jones played one season in the D-backs organization and two more in the Royals system, reaching Triple-A. The injuries continued, including a freak incident where a car ran over his foot in 2003 and a fractured left leg in 2004. Jones tried reinventing himself as a pitcher in independent ball in 2006 but posted a 5.25 ERA in 17 appearances before retiring.   

Jones was the only player taken in the top 10 picks of the 1995 draft who never reached the major leagues.

“He’s definitely, 100%, the best player I’ve ever scouted who didn’t make it,” Finley said.

Injuries played a significant role, but Jones admits he didn’t put in the work necessary to fulfill his potential. It’s a regret that never fully fades away.

“I just didn’t do things like I was supposed to do,” he said. “In the offseason, I didn’t treat myself and my body like an athlete. I treated it more like I’ve always had natural ability. I can just show up and do some stuff.

“Me not making it to the major leagues, I’m 100% responsible for it. I’ve always taken full ownership of it for my whole life. I’ve always heard people make comments in the past, but I’m the one who has to live it. I think I go every day recapping most of my career of what I could have done and what I should have done. If anyone is hard on anybody, I’m the one who’s hardest on myself.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever not think about it. And I think about it on, like, a daily basis.”


Jones spent the first few years of his post-playing career trying to find his place in the world. He took community college classes and got a job managing the beer and wine section at a local Costco. He coached at his old high school for a year. He and his wife had their first child, a daughter, in 2009.

The birth of his daughter served as an inflection point for Jones. He was approaching his mid-30s, working at Costco and taking community college classes that weren’t getting him anywhere.

Despite his disappointing career, Jones’ passion for baseball still flickered. He decided to try to get back in the game.

Jones reached out to local pitching coach Dominick Johnson and asked if he knew anyone who could help him get into scouting. Johnson connected Jones with Ralston, the Orioles’ area scout at the time. After meeting at a local high school field, Ralston agreed to bring Jones on as a bird dog scout.

Very quickly, Ralston saw Jones had a natural talent for evaluating players.

“He had a feel for it,” Ralston said. “It was just going to take some experience and honing it. Having played for a long time with a lot of really good players, that really shortened his learning curve, having a lot of guys to reflect on. I felt like early on he had good instincts and a really good feel for evaluating players.”

The Orioles officially hired Jones as a part-time scout, a role he worked in from 2011 to ’14. In that time, he began to build a new reputation in baseball.

Instead of being known as the draft bust who never made it, Jones started to become known as a diligent scout with a particularly sharp eye for evaluating amateur hitters.

“He was my right-hand man,” Ralston said. “He was really valuable to me in a number of aspects. He could screen out or eliminate guys. I could trust him to say, ‘Yeah, we don’t need to draft this guy. We don’t need to see him.’ 

“I could send him to see guys to get a second opinion. Because of his experience and evaluation skills, we could talk players and different perspectives and that sort of thing.”

When the Rays had an opening for a Southern California area scout position in 2014, Ralston recommended Jones, who he felt had earned a full-time opportunity.

Harrison, then the Rays’ scouting director, met with Jones at the 2014 Area Code Games. Exactly 20 years after Jones wowed Harrison as a player at the same event, he impressed him nearly as much as a scout.

“I was impressed with the conversation, his feel for players, obviously his passion for the game,” Harrison said. “And really his humility for being able to reflect back on his career, and if he had to do it over again, (how) he probably would have taken offseasons and training and stuff like that more seriously.”

The Rays hired Jones as a full-time area scout in 2015. In talent-rich Southern California, he quickly emerged as one of the best evaluators in the region.

Jones’ two most high-profile signings have been 2017 second-rounder Michael Mercado and 2021 first-rounder Carson Williams, both of whom were significant risers in their drafts. In both cases, Jones was one of the first scouts to identify their upticks.

While many scouts are slow to move off of their initial evaluations, Jones’ defining trait has been his humility to admit a prospect is either better—or worse—than he previously thought.

“I just think seeing the different people in my own experiences—all the different teams, teammates, even coaches—if you’re not willing to adjust, this isn’t the game for you,” Jones said.

“This whole game is about adjustments, and I think scouting is the same way.”

Above all else, Jones’ experiences have informed his views on makeup. Having been a high-profile first-round pick who faced enormous pressure, having battled constant injuries and having had people criticize him at every turn, Jones understands and appreciates the mindset players need to succeed more than most.

“I’ve been around kids where it’s too much of a high, where they think you play, get drafted and this world is gonna open up and it’s going to be this great world in front of you,” Jones said. “. . . You’re worried about those ones, because once they fail, are they going to be able to handle the failure?

“The makeup stuff, I think it’s a lot of kids who if they can take ownership in their career and take ownership in their failures and have a good head when they’re succeeding, I think they might have a good chance to have some success.”

In 2022, the Rays expanded Jones’ territory to encompass all of Southern California. Most teams employ two scouts to cover the same region. Some employ three.

But the Rays thought highly enough of Jones’ work that they entrusted the entire region to him.

“We felt good enough about him to go ahead and split California in half which, historically, we wouldn’t have done,” Harrison said. “That tells you a lot about what we think about Jaime’s ability as a scout and ability to get the job done.”

To say Jones’ success as a scout has erased the failures of his playing days would be an overstatement. Nothing can adequately replace the decade-plus major league career—and the accompanying adoration and benefits—Jones and nearly everyone else believes he should have had.

But it has given Jones a purpose, and allowed him to find a place in the game.

“I lived it before, where I was out of baseball,” Jones said. “The game goes on without you, whether you like it or not. I’m in a job where a lot of people want to move fast in this game. I’m just grateful to be in the game.”

Jones’ legacy for nearly 30 years was one of the biggest draft disappointments of all time.

But with each passing year, Jones is changing that. After falling short as a player, he’s excelling as a scout.

“I’m probably more proud of him than anybody I’ve ever scouted and signed, including the big leaguers,” Finley said. “What he’s done in his life, having the stigma of one of the greatest players we’ve all scouted and not make it, and to do what he’s doing, not only as a great scout but a parent and husband, he’s made a good life for himself.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him than any of the guys I’ve ever signed.”

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