A full season from Austin Hays could create a good problem for Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

A full season from Austin Hays could create a good problem for Orioles

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

After teasing the Orioles with two strong Septembers, Austin Hays appears ready to put together a full season if he can stay healthy.

In 2019, Hays hit .309 with a .947 OPS in 21 games in September, leading the Orioles to believe that he was ready to be their full-time centerfielder and leadoff hitter. But his health has held him back.

He missed time because of a variety of injuries in 2018 and 2019. The Orioles were going to send Hays to the Arizona Fall League in 2019 until they found out he could he could play for them and in Arizona. His time in the majors worked out so well, he never had to go to the AFL.

Hays had ankle surgery in 2018 after playing only 75 minor league games. In 2019, a broken thumb and hamstring injuries limited him to 87 games.

In 2020, Hays began the pandemic-shortened season with the Orioles. It was the first time he started a season in the majors and was hitting just .203 with a .519 OPS when he was placed on the 10-day injured list because of a fractured rib on August 15th.

At the time of the injury, manager Brandon Hyde predicted that Hays would miss only 10 days. Instead, Hays missed a month, and when he returned he found an altered outfield.

Anthony Santander, the eventual Most Valuable Oriole, saw his season end because of an oblique injury on September 4th. Cedric Mullins got many of the starts Hays would have gotten in center, Ryan Mountcastle had joined the team and played well in left, and DJ Stewart showed flashes of power in right.

Hyde played Hays in the final 14 Oriole games, and he hit .377 with a .988 OPS.

He played all three outfield positions in the final two weeks as Hyde experimented with his defense. With Santander out, he played Hays, Mountcastle, Mullins and Stewart in the outfield. In the final days, he tried Mountcastle at first.

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Because of the injuries to Hays and Santander, Hyde never got to see Hays, Mountcastle, Mullins, Santander and Stewart together.

How this will work out for next season is difficult to predict, especially with Trey Mancini coming back and Renato Núñez still on the roster. Chris Davis remains on the roster, too.

Mullins was the beneficiary of Hays’ absence, playing center field so well that Hyde campaigned for Mullins to be considered a Gold Glove candidate. A switch-hitter who led the majors with nine bunt base hits, Mullins hit far better as a right-hander (.305 with a .796 OPS) than as a left-hander (.171 with a .502 OPS).

Mullins and Hays bring a dimension of speed to the outfield. Hays’ one home run before he went on the injured list was the Orioles’ first inside-the-park home run in nearly nine years. The homer, which came in the 10th inning on August 11th in Philadelphia, was hit with an automatic runner on second, making it the first leadoff two-run homer in MLB history.

Hays has made several acrobatic catches and, when he’s been in left and Mullins in center, the Orioles’ outfield defense has been impressive.

The Orioles also are likely to make room for another outfielder at some point in 2021, Yusniel Diaz, who is expected to be placed on the 40-man roster before Friday’s deadline. Ryan McKenna, another outfield prospect who was at the Bowie alternate site, is also on the 40-man roster.

The number of promising outfielders might present a positive problem for the Orioles. Diaz, who was also at the Bowie alternate site in 2020, hasn’t played above Double-A. The Orioles would like to see Diaz and McKenna perform at Triple-A. Neither got the chance last year because the minor leagues were shut down by Covid-19.

In Mike Elias’ first two seasons as Orioles executive vice president/general manager, he’s been conservative in promoting prospects, wanting them to stick with the team and not returning to the minors once they move up.

Elias also has drafted some outfield prospects, including Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick in this year’s draft. Kjerstad wasn’t invited to the alternate site and wasn’t able to participate in last month’s Instructional League because of a non-sports-related medical condition.

Other outfield prospects from the last two drafts, including Hudson Haskin, Johnny Rizer, Kyle Stowers and Zach Watson, did attend the Instructional League.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. The Cartoon Bird

    November 16, 2020 at 8:22 am

    Depth is only a good thing if the Orioles can develop and determine which outfielders deserve the most playing time. The Orioles thought they had enough depth in 2019 and that Mike Yastrzemski was expendable because of his age. That was a mistake.

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 16, 2020 at 9:54 am

      CB, as I’ve said many times, any club in baseball could have drafted Mike Yastrzemski for three straight years, and didn’t do so. The Orioles could have promoted him in 2018, but chose John Andreoli instead. There was nothing in his minor league record that suggested this breakout.

      • VICTORTEE

        November 16, 2020 at 10:13 am

        But doesn’t the “Boy Genius” know more than everybody else in MLB?

    • Bancells Moustache

      November 16, 2020 at 12:54 pm

      I’m a believer in the “change of scenery” career move and, much like Arrieta before him, Yaz was never going to be successful in Baltimore. He had plenty of time to advance from the minors and never got it done, his numbers on the farm being pedestrian. Good for him turning it around and becoming a borderline star on the west coast, but I don’t think you can blame the Birds for moving on.

  2. Bhoffman1

    November 16, 2020 at 9:17 am

    He’s gotta be the starting CF with Santander in RF and Ryan in LF. Mullins is a perfect fourth OF with his defense and running . For all his admirers a 171 LH average does not cut it for CF in the majors. With Diaz on horizon a 5 tool player he could turn out the top of the lot. Mancini who I love should be on first everyday and if Elias wants this team to be taken seriously then I don’t care

    how many years Davis has left on his contract the one more chance for him to turn it around is over.

    • VICTORTEE

      November 16, 2020 at 10:15 am

      When has Diaz ever hit for a high average or big time power? So far he is all hype.

      • Bancells Moustache

        November 16, 2020 at 12:44 pm

        I agree with Victor. We keep hearing that Diaz is Roberto Clemente reincarnate. If that’s the case, why hasn’t he made the big league club?

        • Boog Robinson Robinson

          November 16, 2020 at 7:44 pm

          Some would have you believe that he’s being ‘developed’.

    • CalsPals

      November 17, 2020 at 11:47 am

      :)…go O’s…

  3. Bhoffman1

    November 16, 2020 at 9:24 am

    And relating to your last article about Valdez what a great story . I hope he has a big season and gets one nice paycheck . Is there any justice when Davis sits on the DL with minor injuries and gets 22mil a year and this guy has to have his wife work to support thefamily when he gets a real injury. Sorry for the Davis bashing I really believe his success was do to performance enhancing Adderall and once it was taken away look what happened. Correct me if he was put back on it please.

    • Phil770

      November 16, 2020 at 3:49 pm

      @Bhoffman1 – as I understand it, he has to apply to use Adderall every season. He “forgot” the season that he was suspended (which is beyond my comprehension the he could forget such a thing and that his agent – Boras – did not remind him, and even the union! – sorry for the digression). I think the dosage has to be approved as well, but bottom line you are correct that his success was fueled by a performance enhancing product. I think that this was the biggest red flag to PA, which he ignored, to resigning Davis. I think for 2021, Davis will go to Spring Training, like this year, and will be cut or dealt (cost to the O’s the same) depending on the type of Spring Training he has. I don’t think he will be on the 2021 roster.

  4. Baltimore Castaway

    November 16, 2020 at 9:24 am

    The Orioles OF Depth is indeed a good problem to have.

    I see Mountcastle, Diaz, Hays and Santander as the core OF group for the next year or so. That is until Kirksted arrives on the scene. Thinking that Trey Mancini is the heir apparent at 1B once Davis’s status is dealt with. These are all Major League caliber players and a future position of strength for the team. Nice to see. Good job Mr. Duquette. You set up Mr. Elias nicely in this area of the roster.

    Will be interesting to see if the Orioles will be able to trade any of the players you’ve mentioned in this article.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      November 16, 2020 at 11:26 am

      I don’t know what I’m talking about but I see Mancini as the most likely to be traded … for no other reason than payroll management. He’s gotta be up for arbitration along with a substantial pay increase within the next year or two doesn’t he?

      • willmiranda

        November 16, 2020 at 2:35 pm

        I see your point, Boog, about trading Mancini to shed salary, a leitmotiv of this administration. But I can’t see anyone taking him on or offering something substantial in return. It’s cold, but his health situation is questionable, I think. He’ll have to put in a full season to re-establish his value. Speaking of which, it would be nice to see Hays and Santander put in full seasons of good work. Right now, I think we’re just projecting from incomplete samples. As a fan, I hope they all do well; but I still want to see proof positive.

      • Baltimore Castaway

        November 16, 2020 at 5:41 pm

        You are right Boog. Trey’s value will be suppressed due to his issues, though that stuff is all in the rearview mirror for him with the way Hopkins treats that condition. He should live a full healthy life now (with regular check-ups along the way).

        Elias would have a bigger problem trading him because he is really the only “Face of the Franchise” now…

        Beyond these issues, baseball has gone into a full-on Scarcity Mindset where they won’t be making too many big trades, big FA signings, big spending on anything. The reason for this of course is this CV-19 stuff…I could see that MLB will have ANOTHER abbreviated season in 2021 with again, no MILB…. Hoping that I am wrong, but it is later than we think…Spring Training is scheduled to start in another 14 weeks. that is right around the corner and we do not have our arms around the spread of the China Virus….

        Oyyyy…

    • ClayDal

      November 16, 2020 at 11:38 am

      Mancini has 2 more years of arbitration. He can be a free agent after the 2022 season-when Davis’s contract is over. This past year was his first year of arbitration and he signed for 4.75 million. He is projected to make about the same in 2021.

    • Bancells Moustache

      November 16, 2020 at 12:51 pm

      It never ceases to astound me that Trey Mancini, the best player on the team and face of the franchise, is somehow still referred to as the “heir apparent at first base”. When, oh when, will we ever escape the dark shadow of you-know-who and his contract?

  5. Bancells Moustache

    November 16, 2020 at 9:52 am

    I like the idea of a position battle. While both have shown flashes, neither Hays nor Mullins has done enough to show they are a starting MLB Centerfielder yet. So the job is up for grabs. What an opportunity for whoever grabs it. May the best man win.

  6. dlgruber1

    November 16, 2020 at 11:00 am

    I’ve never been one to get excited about any player until they show they can play at the major league level. Buck always said MLB is the toughest sport to make the jump to the highest level. NBA and NFL are full of players fresh out of college becoming immediate stars. MLB, not so much. So in Hays, Mullins, Stewart, even Mountcastle and certainly Diaz and Kjerstad none of them have proven yet that they’re gonna be solid everyday players. The Yankees, on the other hand with Judge, Stanton, Gardner, Frazier and Hicks, they have a good problem. I’d love it if the O’s would get to that point but they’re not there yet.

    • CalsPals

      November 16, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      Gotta play them to know if you have a problem, sitting them in the minors helps no one…go O’s…

  7. jonniebmore

    November 16, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Can any of these guys play third? Is Mountcastle really that bad a third baseman?

    • Bancells Moustache

      November 16, 2020 at 12:48 pm

      Seriously! How bad can the guy really be? I think it has something to do with the modern third baseman position. With the advent of the shift and the frequency of 3B playing in space, the super athletic Arenado/Machado style of player, essentially a second shortstop, is the prototype. That being said, can the guy really be that much of drop off from Rio Ruiz?

  8. Phil770

    November 16, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    As for RM at 3B (drafted as SS), I understand that his range is just okay and that his are is less than okay. While you can give the wise, never wrong DD credit for the outfielders and some young pitchers; he left the cupboard empty for middle IFs. I think Mancini is in the budget for the next two years. The entire Union contract could change after 2021, as a new CBA is required…and a new approach to paying players for over-performing their contract (and under performing too!). The arbitration system, service time to become a free agent; 7-, 10 -,13-year guaranteed contracts, need to be re-thought and revamped. The MLB salary system is not sustainable in its current form.

  9. jimcarter

    November 16, 2020 at 4:28 pm

    Hays needs to prove he can stay on the field more often than not.

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