The Orioles aren't done with the surprise September prospect call-ups. MASN's Roch Kubatko reported on Tuesday night that outfield prospect Austin Hays is on his way to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Hays could join the roster as soon as tonight, and if not, then he will be added tomorrow.
It's not a surprise if you look at what the 22-year-old outfielder accomplished in Frederick and Bowie this season. Hays hit 32 home runs between both levels while playing in 128 games, and he batted a combined .329/.365/.593. There was no dropoff at all as he adjusted from the High-A competition to Double-A. He simply laid waste to whatever poor fools were set to pitch against him.
Earlier on Tuesday, Hays was named as one of five finalists for the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year. That will be announced on Friday.
Not too shabby for a guy who is just a year and three months removed from being drafted. That would be fast-moving even for a first round pick who was expected to soar through the minors quickly, let alone a third round pick. This time last year, Hays was finishing up his season for short-season Aberdeen, and now he's heading to Baltimore.
The surprising part about it is because at first glance, there doesn't seem to be a spot for the O's to give him much playing time. Are they going to be calling him up, similar to what they have done with catcher Chance Sisco, just to give him a chance to absorb some knowledge from the big leaguers for the future? Or are they planning to actually use him a bit more?
If it's the latter, there are certainly choices available to the Orioles as they set their lineups. Hays has been playing both center field and right field in the minors this year. They could choose to give him a shot over non-hitting Joey Rickard, whose .246/.280/.352 batting line isn't cutting it. They could even think about putting Hays in left field, Trey Mancini at designated hitter, and Mark Trumbo in a room without pies.
Either one of those would be a surprise if only because the O's haven't seemed to find a problem with the performance of either player this season up to this point. Hays could also be used more as a late inning defensive replacement or pinch runner, though base-stealing was not one of his strengths this season, as he stole only five bases in twelve attempts. Sometimes you just have to be faster than a catcher.
What's also surprising about the move is that the Orioles will have to cut someone from the 40-man roster in order to add Hays for the rest of the season. You can probably find at least a couple of names you don't think the O's will ever miss on the 40-man right now. Let's hope the next Parker Bridwell isn't about to get trimmed.
Hays was the #2 prospect in the Orioles system, according to the post-trade deadline update to MLB Pipeline, and his scouting capsule has some exciting words:
Hays makes the ball jump off his bat with above-average bat speed and a short, handsy swing from the right side of the plate. Hays doesn't waste a lot of motion and has shown the ability to drive the ball across the whole field. Scouts believe he'll develop into an above-average hitter with similar power, and he's shown plenty of over-the-fence thump across two levels in his first full season. ...
His plus arm profiles anywhere in the outfield, and overall he's a very capable defender with above-average speed. Having done nothing but surpass expectations since signing, Hays, with his impressive tools and feel for the game, seemingly is on the fast track to becoming at least an average everyday player in the big leagues, if not more.
MLB pitchers are going to be tougher than the guys he was facing in the Carolina and Eastern Leagues this season, that's for sure. It seems like the Orioles believe that he's up to that challenge right now. If they're right, that's an exciting development not just for the September stretch this season, but for next season and beyond, too.