Mike Gallego said it took him one ground ball last February to determine that Jahmai Jones, a second-round pick in 2015, was capable of moving from the outfield to second base.
“We had him come in early, before spring training started, and we gave him second base 101, just to see if it was going to be feasible,” said Gallego, the Angels’ director of baseball development.
“When I saw his reactions and his ability to throw the ball the opposite way from where his body was going, it was pretty impressive. I immediately let (general manager) Billy Eppler know that this transition is definitely something that can happen, and that this kid is all-in about it.”
Nine months later, after Jones played 123 games at high Class A Inland Empire and Double-A Mobile, Gallego has set the bar even higher for Jones.
“I have no doubt that he’ll be able to fight for an opportunity to play second base at Triple-A next year,” Gallego said. “And I think he can play well enough defensively to be an everyday second baseman in the big leagues.”
There were growing pains to get to this point—Jones made 26 errors in 2018—and there is much more work to be done, but the 21-year-old Jones is progressing.
Early in the season, Jones had a tendency to sit back on grounders and let the ball play him. He quickly got more aggressive with his first step, which improved his range and helped him get better hops and angles on balls.
Jones struggled early with the short, softer throw from the four-hole but gained a better feel for the play as the season went on. Though he was a part of 60 double plays, he needs more polish in the pivot.
“The second basemen are protected with the new rules, but they’re going to find a way to clip you,” Gallego said. “He has to get better at getting out of the way while still having enough arm and leg strength to complete the double play.”
The speedy Jones slipped a bit at the plate this season, hitting .239/.337/.380 with 10 home runs, 20 doubles and 24 stolen bases.
But in his first week in the Arizona Fall League, Jones reached base five times, with three hits, including a homer, two RBIs and a stolen base in an Oct. 12 game.
“I think a lot of things on the defensive side interrupted his offensive flow,” Gallego said. “There was so much focus and concentration on every single pitch defensively, whereas he didn’t have that in the outfield. He just kind of played freely. But after a full season of playing second base, he can focus more on the offensive side and trust the time he’s put in on defense.”