Now that the Orioles have promoted high-ceiling outfield prospect Austin Hays to the big leagues, they should play him. And not only against lefties as Dan Connolly indicates, but pretty much everyday.
No one seemed to expect Peter Angelos to allow Hays’ arbitration clock to start ticking this soon, but Dan Duquette had made no secret that his team is all in to win in 2017 and knows the 22-year-old right-handed swinger has skills that could help the Birds make the playoffs.
This choice must disappoint Hays’ Double-A minor-league team, the Bowie Baysox, as they lost a home playoff game last night without their best player. Hays-less, they managed just one hit and fell to the Altoona Curve 2-0 in game one of the best-of-five Eastern League post-season series.
But the number one goal of a minor-league system is to prepare players to produce in the majors, and it’s time to see how well that’s worked for Hays.
He certainly seems prepared as evidenced by his .330/.370/.576 batting line across two minor-league levels this year. Hays played 64 games each for Bowie and the A+ Frederick Keys and maintained remarkable consistency – 16 homers for each team and a .958 OPS for the Keys and .960 for the Baysox.
Let’s not have his swing sit idle when it could do harm against pitchers who don’t have much of a book on him. Hays could build upon an offense that can never score enough runs to balance out the team’s unsteady starting pitching.
So, how will the Orioles use him? Buck Showalter referenced Craig Gentry’s finger injury as the main reason Hays was added to the roster, so he should definitely play over Gentry’s replacement, Joey Rickard, versus lefties. Hays’ 1.170 minor-league OPS against southpaws makes that decision a no-brainer.
But Hays should play against righties as well, and it would have been good to see him start yesterday against Sonny Gray over either Mark Trumbo or Seth Smith.
The Orioles certainly could have used some more offense in their sleepy 9-1 defeat to the Yankees. Smith and Trumbo went a combined 0-for-6 as the lineup only mustered seven hits. While Trumbo has improved his stroke a bit lately hitting in seven straight games before yesterday, Smith is hitting just .237 with one homer since August 15.
Connolly quotes Showalter speaking in his loveable broken-English kind of way, saying, “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.”
Indeed, the Birds are due to face exclusively right-handed starters in their next six games – Mike Clevinger, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer in Cleveland and Marco Estrada, Joe Biagini and Marcus Stroman in Toronto. Smith’s and Trumbo’s career numbers against this competition provide another reason that the opportunity has "cropped up" for Hays to start in almost all these games:
After playing the Indians and Blue Jays, the Orioles conclude their road trip with a four-game series against the Yankees. They should face at least two left-handers then – Jaime Garcia and C.C. Sabathia. Perhaps by then, Hays will have established himself as the primary right fielder. After all, he's in the show. Let's see what he can do.