Outfielder Austin Hays, the club’s out-of-nowhere, suddenly-can’t miss-prospect, is now with the Orioles.
“It’s been unbelievable. This first full season has gone by unbelievably fast and then to see where I’m standing right now is just incredible,” Hays (pictured above) said Wednesday. “It’s a dream come true.”
He’s wearing No. 18, and sat in the dugout for Tuesday’s 7-6 walkoff win against the New York Yankees – you really can’t kick off a big league career any better without actually playing in a game.
“It’s awesome. Great atmosphere in the clubhouse,” Hays said. “The game (Tuesday) was a great first game to watch, to watch from the dugout and (to) be around these guys is a lot of fun.”
OK, he’s part of the clubhouse. And he seems like an eager kid willing to do anything to help the club win.
How will manager Buck Showalter use Hays, who hit .329 with 32 homers between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie this year in his first full season as a pro?
“I think I have some speed so possibly in pinch-running situations,” said Hays, the Orioles’ third-round pick out of Jacksonville University in 2016. “I feel like I play pretty good defense, so maybe a defensive situation or, if they need my bat in the lineup, I’m ready to be in the lineup, too. Any situation they need me.”
Yes, Showalter often relies heavily on his veterans more than younger players. But he handed the keys to third base to Manny Machado in 2012 during a pennant race, second base to Jonathan Schoop in 2014 and left field to Trey Mancini this year.
If Hays can play right field and hit at this level, you have to think he will – at least against left-handers while Seth Smith likely will continue to handle right field duty versus right-handers.
“If (Hays) had been here the last three days he might have started (against) the three left-handers. Now we’ve got a pretty long stretch (of right-handed starters for the opposition),” Showalter said. “He can hit right-handers too at that level, so we’ll see. He’ll get an opportunity, somewhere along the line it’ll crop up. He was in the game (Tuesday) if certain things had happened. But it allows us to use Joey (Rickard) in a way that we’d like to use him.”
That’s the key here, and that’s why it appears that Hays will at least be in a platoon in right with Smith. Rickard is viewed more as a fourth outfielder, especially given his ability to play defense and pinch-run. Rickard is the perfect, late-inning weapon off the bench that Showalter loves. And with Craig Gentry suffering a finger injury, Showalter doesn’t have that guy right now (Anthony Santander is not speedy or a particularly strong defender).
So, it looks like Rickard will be that guy, while Hays, who Showalter said is a solid defender, starts some in right. Showalter admitted that he would prefer Rickard as his top pinch-runner (despite some speed, Hays is just 9-for-19 in stolen base attempts as a pro).
“Yes, just the trust factor,” Showalter said about Rickard. “So, if we had a left-handed pitcher, I would rather Joey come off the bench instead of having to start, because we don’t have any options on the bench when Joey plays right field. We have options but they’re not … as good as we need them to be.”
There’s also the fact that the Orioles took Hays away from Double-A Bowie just as the Baysox postseason was about to start. Showalter kind of shot down the idea that he now has to play Hays because of that, but you would think the club wouldn’t have him here if he were primarily going to sit and observe – the way catcher Chance Sisco is – with Bowie still playing.
“Our No. 1 desire is for the Baltimore Orioles to get into the playoffs,” Showalter said. “I don’t know, if you’d ask him what he’d rather be doing, you know the answer. … So, you’re saying if he just sits here and doesn’t play, why didn’t we leave him there for the playoffs? We’ll see.”
We will see. But my sense here is we will see Hays play. Especially against left-handed starters.
The Aquino decision
By adding Hays, that means the Orioles had to make a 40-man roster decision, and lefty Jayson Aquino was designated for assignment. It’s not a surprise in that Aquino hasn’t pitched particularly well this year (7.43 ERA in four games with the Orioles, 4.24 ERA in 21 games at Triple-A). But he is only 24, left-handed and has some potential.
Showalter said the tricky thing is that the team does not see Aquino as a reliever, because he needs to face hitters multiple times to establish his changeup. And, because he is out of minor-league options next year, he’d have to make the team as a starter out of spring training or be designated anyway.
The hope is that Aquino clears waivers and is outrighted to Norfolk, similar to Logan Verrett and Tyler Wilson this week. The Orioles think this is a good time to do it, because most teams have a full, 40-man roster.
The rainout at least helps one Oriole: Mike Wright is eligible to return from the minors Thursday, so he is expected to be activated. Because Thursday was initially an off day, Wright would have to wait until Friday’s game. But now he gets an extra day to potentially show what he can do.