Two Yankees underdogs mounting strong bids staking claim for infield roles

Kevin Smith is making news during the Yankees' 2024 spring training.
Sara Molnick
Tuesday March 19, 2024

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The New York Yankees are grappling with increasing uncertainty regarding their infield depth. They already had one vacant spot to fill, and the recent injury to DJ LeMahieu has added another question mark to the equation. Although X-rays for LeMahieu, who fouled a ball off his foot on Saturday, came back negative, a prolonged recovery period could necessitate a Yankees roster move.

This situation has thrust players like Kevin Smith and Jahmai Jones into the spotlight for the upcoming season. Both are competing for the Yankees’ backup infield role, alongside Jorbit Vivas, who is already on the 40-man roster. Jeter Downs, who was initially part of the competition, has been reassigned to the minor league camp.

LeMahieu of the Yankees at a practice session.

Previously, Oswald Peraza was considered the leading candidate for the backup infield spot. However, his throwing was halted due to a shoulder injury, which has derailed his chances of securing the position.

With Anthony Volpe slated to be the starting shortstop for the Yankees, the question of who will serve as his backup remains unanswered. Oswaldo Cabrera has the defensive versatility to fill that role, but his ability to cover multiple positions could result in him being deployed elsewhere on the field.

The ideal backup would be a player who is comfortable at shortstop while also being adept at playing second and third base. Enter Kevin Smith, who has thrown his hat into the ring for this competition. Despite committing an error at the Yankees’ shortstop on Sunday, Smith has a track record of solid defense across all three infield positions.

Despite recent discussions about potential roster additions, Smith, a non-roster invitee who made his debut with the Blue Jays in 2021 and spent the last two seasons with the A’s, remains focused on personal improvement. His daily routine is centered around consistency: arriving early, working on getting better, learning from teammates, and giving his all to be ready for the season. Smith’s primary objective is to make himself a valuable asset to the Yankees in whatever capacity he can.

A new Yankees’ backup plan for shortstop?

If Kevin Smith secures the backup shortstop role, the Yankees could potentially field an entirely New York-based double-play combination.

Anthony Volpe, a native of Manhattan who was raised in New Jersey, would be the starting shortstop, with a potential homegrown backup in Smith. Growing up in East Greenbush, Smith was a passionate Yankees fan, especially during the iconic rivalry with the Red Sox. He vividly recalls the electrifying atmosphere, being just a few hours away from both teams and witnessing his neighborhood divided in their loyalties.

This local connection could serve as a source of motivation for Smith, potentially fueling his efforts to impress during spring training. Securing the backup role would not only solidify his position on the team but also fulfill a childhood dream of playing for his favorite team, alongside another New Yorker in Volpe.

Jahmai Jones, who is vying for the backup infield position, brings an impressive athletic lineage to the Yankees. His father, Andre, was a linebacker at the University of Notre Dame and briefly played for the Detroit Lions in the NFL. Jahmai’s brother, T.J., also played for the Lions as a receiver before joining the New York Giants in 2019.


Growing up in Georgia, Jones excelled in both baseball and football during his high school years. However, around his junior year, a conversation with his family prompted him to choose one path – and he ultimately decided to pursue baseball.

Motivated by the desire to establish his own identity, Jones chose to follow his passion for baseball despite having a background and physique (6’0″, 210 lbs) that seemed well-suited for football. According to Jones, baseball filled a void that he hadn’t realized existed in football, leading him to fully commit himself to the sport.

Jahmai Jones, who is vying for the backup infield position, brings versatility and a well-traveled path to the competition. After making his debut with the Los Angeles Angels in 2020, he has since played for the Baltimore Orioles (2021), spent time in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league system (2022), and most recently appeared in seven major league games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2023.

Jones offers defensive flexibility, with experience playing in the outfield and at second and third base, although he has yet to play shortstop at the major league level. Despite this, the 26-year-old has been impressive during spring training, posting a strong .804 OPS in Grapefruit League play.

Jones exudes a “work first, talk later” mentality, emphasizing his dedication to earning a spot on the roster. He expresses his willingness to contribute in any way the team needs him to once the regular season begins.

However, the competition remains open. If none of the current contenders solidify their position during spring training, the Yankees may turn their attention to veteran infielders released by other teams.

“We’re confident in the options we have here,” General Manager Brian Cashman said on Saturday, “but like every spring, we’ll always be on the lookout for what’s available externally.”

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