If you’ve kept track of the happenings down on the farm this year, you’ll know that Austin Hays might be the Orioles prospect earning the most attention over the past year. Last year’s third round selection, Hays hasn’t done anything but be consistent at the dish, moving his way up to Bowie by the end of June of this year.
He just entered the MLB.com Top 100 prospects list, he’s one of the rising young stars in the organization and as he continues to shine, he took a few minutes out of his busy schedule this week to chat about his experiences over the past year-plus in the system.
Baseball, baseball, baseball
First, let’s get the important numbers out of the way. Hays is hitting .333/.372/.584 through his first 139 pro ball games, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 94 RBI in 597 appearances at the plate. He tore the cover off of the baseball in Aberdeen in 2016, made the leap to Frederick to kick off this season and now owns a .340 average at Bowie in 37 games with the Baysox. You really can’t start a career off much better than Hays has, and the national media evaluators have taken notice.
A great story of last offseason came from Steve Melewski at MASN, who posted a story with Hays hinting at the fact that some of his success in 2016 came from being able to keep his focus solely on baseball with no homework or outside school-related responsibilities to take care of. He echoed those sentiments again this week, noting that life in Minor League Baseball is about taking care of business on the field.
“It’s awesome,” Hays said of being able to play in a game every day and keeping a baseball-first mindset. “I would say that it makes it a lot easier to forget a bad game that you have because you don’t have to wait two or three days to get back out there. It’s nice to know when you’re laying your head down at night when you have a bad game that you get to go back out and play again the next day.”
What stood out most in talking with Hays is his attitude toward the game. Unlike top prospects who have had their baseball lives handed to them on a silver platter and often harp on the “Minor League grind” as a negative, the 22-year-old did the exact opposite. His love for the game is pure, genuine and refreshing.
Of course, playing Minor League Baseball isn’t close to anything most young minor-leaguers have done before. Many, when asked the question about how they mentally handle the schedules, give answers that acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and hint to the idea that they have to step back and appreciate the situation they’re in to get by on a daily basis.
Not Hays. When asked about the schedule, the Orioles outfield prospect almost seemed to perk up and speak excitedly about getting the opportunity to play baseball every night for months.
“A lot of my friends who were in pro ball were telling me, ‘Just wait until August hits, you’ll see how your body feels, that’s when it truly becomes a grind,’ but it hasn’t been as bad as what I thought it was going to be...
“It goes along with that quote I said, that I didn’t have homework and the other responsibilities,” he continued. “I feel like that was the grind – having to wake up at five in the morning, go lift, go to class and then go to practice after. As far as this goes, it’s been awesome. I love it. It’s everything that I’ve ever wanted and I don’t feel like it’s a grind at all. I feel like it’s what I want to do when I come to the field. It’s what I dreamed of and I just have a lot of fun doing it.”
Approaching opposing pitching
Hays’ approach to facing opposition pitching runs along similar lines. He says he appreciates and takes advantage of advanced scouting reports and the video that’s available in professional baseball, but that’s not why he feels he’s been able to stay consistent throughout every level. He seems to credit what you might expect a player with his mentality to credit – fundamentals and relying upon experience at the plate.
“I guess it’s just not thinking that you have the answers to the test, that it’s just going to be given to you and you know exactly what is going to happen,” he described when noting that he avoids reading too much into scouting reports. “Being able to anticipate something in a certain count or a certain situation where there’s runners on, you can have an idea of what you want to do, but you still have to be ready for anything.”
Hays says that he’s noticed an uptick in opposing “stuff” following his promotion to Bowie, but admits that the leap hasn’t been overwhelming in his early experience the Eastern League. And if the numbers are any indicator, it tells a similar story – the opposing pitching isn’t offering much that the former Jacksonville University standout can’t counter.
In 153 at-bats with the Baysox following his June 22nd promotion, Hays has a .340 batting average with 10 home runs and 24 total extra-base hits. His total slugging percentage on the season is at .607, posting a .975 OPS between Frederick and Bowie. How’s that for kicking off a scouting report?
The future and a fun fact
If the old phrase “the future looks bright” can be dusted off for any Orioles prospect at the end of the 2017 season, it’s likely going to be Hays. He’s doing everything right on the field and has a superb personality and mentality off of it. From afar, it seems he fits the mold for future big-leaguer.
“I definitely think about the future, thinking that last year a little over a year ago I was still in college and going through the draft process, just getting into professional baseball,” he said. “And now, I’m at the double-A level here. It just gives you confidence knowing that you have good ability and if you keep doing consistent work on the field every day and you keep getting better, it’s becoming realistic that the lifelong dream is that much closer.”
Finally, to expand upon the fact that Hays really does look the part of a classic hard-nosed baseball player, a quick story about why he doesn’t wear batting gloves at the plate...
In his early baseball days, he says he was the fastest player on the team and tended to steal quite a few bases. But because the dirt tended to be rough and he always kept batting gloves on, he says ripped through pair after pair, joking that he needed almost a new pair a week. After a while, Hays said his mom made the decision that enough was enough and that paying for new gloves was a pointless effort.
From that moment forward, the approach at the plate would be without gloves – and despite a week of trying to swing with gloves in high school, Hays said he hated the feeling and quickly made the switch back to a glove-free swing.
The no-gloves look still exists today, and it’s safe to say it’s working just fine on his journey to the big leagues.