Austin Hays is healthy again, finding instant success in the minor leagues, and may make things interesting in the near future.
Austin Hays has been back for eight games and has yet to be promoted to AAA Norfolk, where he was supposed to begin the 2019 season, but it’s time to jump the gun, overreact, and start looking ahead to the near future. It’s one of the few joys of being a fan of the Baltimore Orioles this season.
Hays is settling in with the Advanced-A Frederick Keys and has home runs in back-to-back games. Every night seems to bring more positive reports from the minor leagues, a rare occurrence in Birdland over the years. You just love to see it.
After hitting .351 with five home runs, three doubles, and a 1.277 OPS in 12 spring training games, Hays showed he was clearly healthy from ankle surgery which ended his 2018 season earlier than expected.
Despite the hot spring, the Baltimore Orioles decided to send Hays to AAA Norfolk to start 2019, a smart move for the 23-year-outfielder who played in just 241 minor league games before this season and was the first 2016 MLB draft pick to make his major league debut. Unfortunately, the Jacksonville University product injured his thumb on a slide in minor league camp (oven mitts, people!) which cost him nearly two months.
Now playing with the Frederick Keys, Hays started out slow, as expected. After going 1-4 with an RBI in his debut, Hays went 0-14 in his next four games as he adjusted to in-game pitching and continued to find the swing that made him a top prospect.
He’s now riding a two-game home run streak, going 4-9 with two home runs and four runs driven in his last two games. Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, Maryland is a launching pad, regardless, it’s a very positive sign to see Hays swinging the bat well and finding quick success. His next test will come against more advanced minor league pitching, a test Hays figures to have little trouble with.
The most important thing, over the next few weeks, is that Hays finds his rhythm and stays healthy. As long as everything remains on track, when will Austin Hays find himself back on the major league roster? I wouldn’t expect it anytime soon, but the path is much less muddy for Hays, compared to the path for guys like DJ Stewart and Anthony Santander.
A look at the Baltimore Orioles outfield situation.
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Major shakeups are in the works in Birdland, they have to be. Mark Trumbo is off to extended spring training and is expected to begin a rehab assignment shortly. Brandon Hyde wants him playing the field once he is ready to rejoin the major league roster and I would assume Mike Elias echos that sentiment.
The outfielder/designated hitter is in the final year of his contract and the Orioles were hoping to trade him at some point, but trading a DH who is on the shelf is impossible. Trumbo will be given every opportunity to play and showcase his health, as long as he is able to.
Outfielder DJ Stewart has nothing left to prove in the minors. Currently hitting .285 (.412 in his last 10 games) with a .400 OBP, eight home runs, and more walks (25) than strikeouts (23), letting Stewart stew in the minors may do more harm than good at this point. However, Dwight Smith Jr has left field locked down and the combination of Trey Mancini/Mark Trumbo will have right field locked down, unless one or both are traded.
There’s also Cedric Mullins who continues to work on his game in AAA. Mullins has been a frustrating case this season, getting off to a rough start at the major league level and continuing that trend on the farm, hitting .225 in 21 games.
Hays has played center field in each of his games with Frederick, perhaps giving him a much easier path back to the majors. Joey Rickard can only survive for so much longer with the Baltimore Orioles (also has an option so the Orioles can be flexible if they really want to keep him around), Mullins isn’t putting it all together, and Stevie Wilkerson has been fine in center, but he will be back in the infield once moves are made- like trading away Jonathan Villar.
As Hays puts a laundry list of injuries behind him, the Orioles will likely continue rolling with Wilkerson, maybe even giving Mullins another opportunity before bringing Hays up. But as Hays told MASN’s Roch Kubatko a few days ago, he’s watching his teammates closely, monitoring the lineups, and knows exactly what he needs to do to make an impact and take a starting job for himself.
The outfield situation will shake itself out, eventually. Until then, just stay healthy, Austin Hays. Birdland needs you.