O's call up No. 18 prospect Jahmai Jones

August 25th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- No team has gotten less production out of second base than the Orioles this season, with the eight players they’ve given an opportunity to combining for the lowest collective OPS of any team at the position. Is Jahmai Jones the answer?

In one of their most highly anticipated callups of the season, the Orioles promoted Jones from Triple-A Norfolk ahead of Tuesday’s series opener against the Angels as part of a roster shakeup amid an 18-game losing streak. Fans for weeks have clamored for the arrival of Jones, the club’s No. 18 ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, and the return in last winter’s Alex Cobb trade with the Halos. Jones arrived in Baltimore on Tuesday along with his former team, and is eager to make an impact.

“I'm very excited,” Jones said. “I am excited for the opportunity to learn, and on top of that, just being who I am, I feel like I'm just a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Hopefully that just translates into my game here. I’m definitely looking to have some fun up here.”

Jones, who turned 24 on Aug. 4, hit .238/.329/.417 with 10 home runs and 10 steals for Norfolk, where he appeared at three positions but played predominantly second base. A converted outfielder, Jones figures to see the lion’s share of big league reps at second down the stretch, his arrival pushing Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías into a timeshare at shortstop with Richie Martin for Norfolk.

Jones made his MLB debut on Tuesday night, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in a 14-8 loss to the Angels. On the defensive side, Jones made two above-average plays and recorded one error.

The Orioles optioned Martin, designated Maikel Franco for assignment and recalled third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez in the shakeup. They also claimed right-hander Conner Greene off waivers from the Dodgers, less than two weeks after losing Greene on a waiver claim to Los Angeles.

“Any time young players come with energy, it's positive,” O’s manager Brandon Hyde said. "We're scuffling and we're in a tough spot right now. Hopefully Jam can give us a little jumpstart and give our club some energy. That would be huge for us.”

The transactions ended an unceremonious tenure with Baltimore for Franco, who signed a one-year, $800,000 free agent contract and then posted career-worst numbers almost across the board. A former top prospect, Franco, 28, hit .210 with 11 home runs, 47 RBIs, a .608 OPS and -3 Outs Above Average per Statcast in 104 games for the Orioles. Franco’s -.02 fWAR rated him the seventh-worst regular in MLB, per Fangraphs.

“He just never got going offensively,” Hyde said. “He never got on a really good streak. He did a fine job for us defensively. He's a pro. He's great in the clubhouse. He's a good guy. Offensively, he just seemed like he never hit his stride.”

Martin reaction
On the surface, cutting ties with Franco weeks before his contract would’ve expired seemed like a clear signal the Orioles plan to give playing time to younger players down the stretch. But why isn’t Martin among them? It’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

Martin’s optioning comes less than a month after he returned from two years of injuries, despite being the Orioles' only natural shortstop at the big league level, and with no corresponding move made with an eye toward filling that hole. Martin is 26, fully healthy for the first time in two years and clearly improved the O's athleticism up the middle, even while hitting just .227 in 15 games. If now isn’t the time to take a longer look to see if he can assert himself as a big league regular, when is?

“Richie needs Triple-A at-bats and he needs to work on his swing and offensive game,” Hyde said. “Richie has a ton of tools, is incredibly athletic and becoming a better defender a short. Now it's really just to learn the speed up here offensively and be able to be on time with the fastball and be able to make hard, consistent contact. So we felt like going to get Triple-A at-bats would be the best thing for him from a development standpoint.”

In the interim, the Orioles will continue giving Mateo and Urías time at short and third, and they summoned Gutierrez, primarily a third baseman, for the hot corner as well. Mateo, Urías and Martin all have enough versatility to play third (remember, Martin broke his left wrist earlier this season playing center field), meaning each could’ve gotten regular at-bats with Franco gone, even if Jones played every day at second. Martin last played every day in 2019, when he hit .208 in 120 games as Baltimore’s regular shortstop as a Rule 5 Draft rookie. He missed all of '20 and most of this season due to wrist fractures.

Worth noting
• The Orioles placed J.D. Mundy on the injured list at Double-A Bowie with a right thumb fracture, the issue ending what was an impressive first full season in pro ball for the left-handed-hitting infielder. One of Baltimore's undrafted free-agent signings after the 2020 Draft, Mundy hit .292/.389/.538 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs in 71 games across two levels, including 51 games with Class A Advanced Aberdeen. Mundy was assigned to Bowie on Aug. 17, but he had not yet seen playing time with the club.

• In other Minor League transactions, the Orioles released left-hander Ryan Wilson and infielder Malquin Canelo. Wilson was at High-A Aberdeen; Canelo at Double-A Bowie.