Baltimore Orioles sending Austin Hays and Steve Wilkerson to the AFL
The Baltimore Orioles have selected two players so far to play in the Arizona Fall League; outfielder Austin Hays and infielder Steve Wilkerson
The Arizona Fall League released preliminary rosters on Thursday afternoon, giving us a glimpse of which players teams, including the Baltimore Orioles, will be sending to Arizona this year.
The AFL runs from early October to the middle of November and playing in the league is an important developmental opportunity for prospects as the league is filled with close to MLB-ready talent. It gives prospects the opportunity to face more talented opposition on a daily basis and helps organizations continue to develop these players into big-leaguers.
If the AFL is new to you, you can read more about the it here and here but in brief, the league is split into 6 teams with each MLB team sending 6 players for a total of 180 prospects in the league.
This year, Orioles prospects will play for the Glendale Desert Dogs with prospects from the White Sox, Indians, Yankees and Dodgers. These will change a bit for the next few weeks as teams fill out their expanded September rosters, but you can find the current AFL rosters here. Let’s take a look at the two players the O’s have selected so far.
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The 23-year-old Austin Hays was the Orioles 3rd round pick in the 2016 MLB draft. Hays hit well in the minors in 2017 but struggled in his limited time in the majors last year. Just 22 years old at the time, in 20 games for the O’s he had a .238 OBP and struggled making solid contact and driving the ball.
Fangraphs had Hays listed as the Baltimore Orioles number one prospect coming into 2018 but instead of fighting for a spot on the major league roster like many expected, Hays has hit a combined .236/.266/.401 in 71 games between Aberdeen and Bowie while dealing with a shoulder issue early on, and an ankle injury that kept him out all of June and most of July.
While 2018 has been underwhelming for Hays, the AFL will be a great opportunity for him to things back on track and to face big-league caliber pitching again. If all goes right, Hays will be a big contributor for the 2019 Orioles.
Wilkerson has never been a top prospect and at 26, much of the shine has come off him. He was the O’s 8th round pick in the 2014 draft, hitting well enough to move up through the system, but never so well as to be considered a top prospect for the O’s.
Wilkerson played well last year, posting a .305/.375/.423 line earning him a trip to the 2017 AFL where he had a .908 OPS in 23 games. However, Wilkerson was suspended for 50 games at the end of 2017 for testing positive for amphetamines, causing him to miss significant time at the beginning of 2018.
Wilkerson has played well in limited time this year, but due the suspension and his dealing with hamstring and oblique injuries, he’s appeared in just 34 games in 2018. There’s a good chance that Wilkerson joins the Baltimore Orioles in September, once rosters expand and he’s fully healthy. But the AFL should provide him with more consistent opportunities than he’ll get at the major league level for the rest of 2018.
It’ll be interesting to see who else the Orioles decide to send to Arizona in October. The farm system isn’t exactly loaded with talent, but it’ll be an opportunity for the Orioles to get some extra development time for a handful of players. We’ll keep an eye out for follow up info and keep you all updated as the Orioles get closer to finalizing their AFL selections.