San Bernardino, California —— The Los Angeles Angels don’t have a whole lot down on their farm to get excited about, and in San Bernardino specifically there are fewer enticing prospects now that Michael Hermosillo, Taylor Ward, and Matt Thaiss have all been promoted to Double-A Mobile. Fortunately, though, the Angels’ #1 prospect — outfielder Jahmai Jones — was promoted to Inland Empire this week, and he comes as advertised: compact swing, quick bat, and a ton of speed to roam the bases and the outfield. An Atlanta-area native who is still just 19 years old — making him one of the youngest ballplayers in High-A — Jones has the potential to be an impact talent defensively and should sneak up on people with his bat.
He’s not big, listed at 6’0″ and likely shorter, but he’s compact with great musculature, and his thick, sturdy frame will help maintain athleticism and guard against the wear and tear of full-season pro ball over the next few years. His best tool is his plus speed, and a high school background as a wide receiver (his father and a brother played in the NFL) have Jones running down absolutely everything in center field. He gets great reads and jumps on defense, and while he’s a little more raw in his pickoff reads on the base paths, he already intuitively understands how to use his speed to disrupt a pitcher’s timing and tempo and, hopefully, get his teammate at the plate something good to hit.
Of course, I expected the speed, and the plus glove work in center field, but what caught me off guard about seeing Jahmai Jones on Friday night (his second game at Inland Empire) was how good a handle he has on a mature approach at the plate. His swing is very compact with above-average bat speed, and he gets good loft considering his body type and swing mechanics. Couple that with his speed, and the Los Angeles Angels may have themselves a doubles machine who can go gap-to-gap with the bat and run for days. He shows better plate coverage than you’d expect out of a 19-year-old kid, especially one who played so much high school football who is now facing competition now three and four years his senior. There’s no question he can go the other way with authority, and I think the ability to pepper the right-center field gap with line drives could make Jahmai Jones a longtime big leaguer.
As we always do with the prospects Baseball Census writes up, here is some video of Jahmai Jones batting on Friday night for the 66ers against the Visalia Rawhide:
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The future for Jahmai Jones
So what does the future hold for the outfielder, who is certainly an impact talent but also no doubt elevated some because of the Los Angeles Angels’ weak farm system? Well, down the line, it’s reasonable to expect Jones to shift to left field with Mike Trout patrolling center; the 19-year-old has average or slightly-above-average arm strength from the outfield, but I have a feeling his speed and defense will be better served in left with a truly plus arm patrolling right in the big leagues. Jones is way ahead of schedule right now, and judging by the very small sample size of his first few games in High-A he’s unfazed by the competition here, slashing .455/.571/.455/1.026 through his first 15 plate appearances entering Sunday.
Obviously, those numbers will normalize, but I really like the no-nonsense, compact swing Jahmai Jones is already employing, and that’s going to play wherever he goes this year and beyond. To that end, he should eventually enjoy a long big league career wreaking havoc on the base paths and sitting at the top of a batting lineup with the ability to hit for some sneaky power at times. Incredibly young for the level here, the Los Angeles Angels would likely to well to keep him in High-A over the final six weeks of the summer and start him in Double-A — as a 20-year-old — in 2018.