During the dismal 2021 season, the Orioles might have discovered that Austin Hays is part of a brighter future. The beginning of the season wasn’t very good for Hays. After an outstanding spring training, Hays suffered a right hamstring injury in the Orioles’ third game and, in late May, he had another hamstring injury.
Hays, who had a history of injuries, missed 28 games during the two stints on the injured list, but those were nearly all the games he missed in 2021.
After returning from the second hamstring injury on June 11th, Hays missed only two more games and proved that perhaps he’s more durable than some originally thought.
Hays hit .256, second only to Cedric Mullins’ .291. His 22 home runs trailed only Ryan Mountcastle’s 33 and Mullins’ 30, and his 71 RBIs tied with Trey Mancini for second on the team behind Mountcastle’s 89.
Hays had a .769 OPS, but the number that stands out is the 131 games he played, a number that in late May seemed unlikely.
There are still rough parts to Hays’ game. He walked just 28 times while striking out 107. His splits show that he hit .308 against left-handers and only .226 against right-handers, a number that must improve for him to continue to play regularly.
After September 1st, things got much better for Hays. He hit .284 with a .921 OPS, and he hit eight home runs and drove in 22.
An intriguing stat is that Hays hit much better when playing right field (.285 with an .814 OPS in 45 games) than left (.238 with a .724 OPS).
The 26-year-old is fun to watch in the outfield. Overall, he has a 3.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and a strong 1.1 Defensive WAR. He had nine outfield assists, and his only error came in on June 13th in the only complete game he played in center field—while Mullins was resting.
In 2016, Hays was drafted in the third round, behind pitchers Cody Sedlock, Keegan Akin and Mattias Dietz, who was released during the 2021 season.
A college teammate at Jacksonville University of pitcher Mike Baumann, Hays was rushed to the major leagues just 15 months after he was drafted.
In 2017, Hays hit a combined .329 with a .958 OPS with 32 home runs and 95 RBIs at High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. That was enough to convince Dan Duquette, Mike Elias’ predecessor as head of baseball operations, that Hays should be the first player from the 2016 draft to play in the majors.
As the Orioles slumped in September 2017, Hays hit .217 with a home run and eight RBIs in 20 games and ended up missing most of the 2018 season because of a left ankle injury that required surgery in September.
In 2019, Hays sprained a thumb sliding into second base in a spring game and was later slowed by a hamstring injury. He played 87 games at four minor league levels, including his first 57 at Triple-A.
Hays was promoted in September and hit .309 in 21 games with four home runs and 13 RBIs. The Orioles were going to send Hays to the Arizona Fall League, but he played so well in the majors, they changed their mind.
In 2020, Hays suffered a broken rib and played just 33 of the 60 games that year, but again sparkled in September, hitting .377 in 14 games.
Hays proved something important to the Orioles this year — that he could play the bulk of the season. I’m not sure that three straight strong Septembers lead to any conclusions. The first two came after shorter seasons, but the last one might be the most important.
Arizona Fall League update: Yusniel Diaz, who had a rough 2021 season at Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie, is hitting .222 with a home run and nine RBIs in seven games for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.
Infielder Greg Cullen is hitting .211 with a home run and five RBIs in seven games with Mesa. Catcher Ramón Rodriguez, who was at High-A Aberdeen, is hitting .273 in three games with an RBI.
Outfielder Kyle Stowers, who was sent home last month because of a lower-back injury, was 2-for-10 (.200) in three games.
Right-handers Connor Loeprich (0-1, 10.00 ERA in three games), Logan Gillaspie (0-1, 15.00) in three games, and left-handers Cameron Bishop (0-0, 10.38) and Nick Vespi (2-1, 3.12) are the pitchers sent to the Arizona Fall League by the Orioles.