Jahmai Jones is the invisible Yankee who might have the best seat in baseball

Jahmai Jones is a professional baseball player who rarely plays.

The 26-year-old has been on the Yankees' active roster since Opening Day and has tallied only 10 plate appearances over the past eight weeks. Very rarely are MLB players rostered for that long and utilized that infrequently.

The Yankees have played 52 games entering Friday; Jones has started just two of them. His first career home run came on Mother’s Day in one of those starts. Nine other times, he entered as a pinch-runner, pinch-hitter or defensive replacement. Most days, the upbeat, likable utilityman plays the role of baseball army reservist: prepared and waiting for a call unlikely to come.

But a lack of playing opportunities doesn’t mean a lack of work. Jones still prepares, every single day, with the mentality that he’ll play that night. He says it’s the only way to stay fresh, to stay ready. And around the fourth or fifth inning of a game he’s not starting — which is most games — he’ll duck into the Yankees' subterranean batting cage to stretch, run and take some swings in case manager Aaron Boone calls his name.

And so most nights, Jones begins the game as a spectator, albeit one with great seats. From the top step of the dugout, his arms draped over the railing, he watches one of MLB’s most electrifying offenses go to work.

“As you can see, we roll out a pretty consistent lineup,” Jones told Yahoo Sports about the Juan Soto/Aaron Judge-led Yanks offense that leads the majors in homers. “I know that, you know, those guys are really good. So it's an opportunity for me to learn.”

Jones is no wide-eyed, happy-to-be-here onlooker. The Georgia-born athlete was once a player with immense promise and big expectations. He was a highly touted amateur talent at a prestigious Atlanta-area high school, with two older brothers who would go on to play in the NFL. The Angels drafted him in the second round in 2014 and gave a $1.1 million signing bonus to forgo a commitment to UNC. He rose through Anaheim's system, became a top 100 prospect and was hailed as a potential impact big leaguer.

As is so often the case with hitting prospects, a lack of offensive consistency and defensive upside soured his stock as he climbed the ladder. Jones debuted with Anaheim during the 2020 season but his profile continued to sink following a trade to Baltimore and an ill-timed Tommy John surgery. Since then, he has been a so-called “up-and-down guy,” his time spent oscillating between various Triple-A teams and their big league affiliates. The Yankees — who he joined this spring training after the Brewers jettisoned him from their 40-man roster — are his fifth organization and his fourth MLB cup of coffee. Spring training injuries to a pair of Yankee infielders — DJ LeMahieu and Oswald Peraza — opened the door for Jones to make the club out of camp and he took advantage.

Time and the realities of baseball have complicated Jones’ career, but his lofty expectations for himself remain. Even as he lingers on the fringes of New York’s roster, he maintains a firm belief that he still has the ability to become an everyday player.

“I think I've got all the talent to be an everyday big league guy," Jones said. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I was. I just wait for my opportunities and make the most out of them, whether they're every day or, you know, once a week, or whatever it may be.”

It’s a fascinating tightrope Jones must walk. To remain unwaveringly confident in his abilities while simultaneously acting selfless in the short term to help the team win. It’s common for big league bench players with bigger dreams to grow dissatisfied and sour about their situation. Jones didn’t let that happen.

“My thing is like, if I'm salty all the time, and I'm pissed off, how is that going to translate to helping the team win?" Jones asked "If I'm not getting the opportunity in the game, but I'm bringing everybody else down around me, I'm only being a cancer to the team. I'm never going to be that.”

Appearing so infrequently is not completely unprecedented. Just last season, a utility player named Charlie Culberson spent two separate month-long stints on Atlanta’s MLB roster while making just a single plate appearance. Culberson was a 34-year-old veteran at the end of his road; Jones is just 26, young enough to believe there are brighter days ahead.

And to be clear, the lack of opportunity aside, there are worse jobs. Jones is on the MLB minimum salary, which works out to approximately $4,277 per day. That means he’s brought home over $220,000 for 10 plate appearances and two starts; good work if you can get it. He lives in New York, he plays for the Yankees, life is good.

But all good things must end and Jones’ time on the roster appears to be dwindling. LeMahieu, the team’s projected everyday third baseman, is close to full health. Currently on a minor league rehab assignment, the 13-year veteran could join the team as soon as next week for the Yankees’ trip to Anaheim. LeMahieu’s return from a foot injury would likely push the Jon Berti/Oswaldo Cabrera combo to the bench and Jones off the roster. He would likely be designated for assignment, eligible to be traded or claimed by another team and placed on its big league roster. If unclaimed, Jones would almost certainly report to New York’s Triple-A affiliate in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Jones says that the ticking clock doesn’t bother him, that he doesn’t dwell on it.

“That decision is completely out of my control. So I'm not going to spend every single day waiting on the 'what if' or worrying about if it's me or not. Because, again, it's not helping anybody. It's not helping myself, it’s not helping the team to win, and it's not helping DJ get healthy.”

Even if he gets sent down, he could very well return later this season. In the meantime, while the future lurks, Jones remains positive, focused and involved. He is a joyful presence during Yankees batting practice, bantering with his teammates, a smile plastered on his face as he gets his work in. During games, Jones remains a fixture on the dugout’s top step, at least until it’s time for him to get ready.

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