2017 was quite the year for Orioles’ prospect, Austin Hays. Entering his first full season in professional baseball after 38 games with short-season Aberdeen in 2016, Hays skipped Delmarva and started the season off in Frederick. The young outfielder dominated the Carolina League and earned a promotion to Bowie after just 64 games thanks to a slash line of .328/.364/.592.
Hays didn’t slow down once he got to Bowie. Despite the uptick in competition, he posted nearly identical numbers to the ones he put up in Frederick and wound up slashing .330/.367/.594 in another 64 games for the Baysox. With 32 doubles and 32 homers through 128 games in the minor leagues, Hays capped off his 2017 campaign with a promotion to the major leagues. In donning the orange and black for Baltimore, Hays’s meteoric rise resulted him becoming the first 2016 draftee to make the major leagues.
Expectations were unsurprisingly high heading into 2018 for Hays. He vaulted himself into conversations regarding the Orioles’ top prospect, and many fans thought he had a chance to make the O’s out of spring training as their everyday right fielder. Instead, Hays missed weeks of spring training nursing a shoulder injury and returned to Bowie where he got off to a slow start.
While Hays refused to blame his injuries for his poor performance to start the year, the Orioles certainly hoped it was his nagging injuries that were slowing him down. When he was finally shut down in late May due to a lingering ankle injury, the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year from just last year was batting only .224.
Flash forward to now. After months of rest and rehab, Hays has been back in Bowie for the past two weeks and is starting to find the old form that vaulted him into the game’s upper echelon of outfield prospects.
Last Tuesday, Hays went 3-for-3 in a confidence-boosting performance against the Flying Squirrels of Richmond. It would have represented another day at the office for Hays in 2017, a season in which he posted 13 three-hit games, but it marked just his first three-hit performance of 2018. Hays one-upped himself against Eerie last Friday, going 4-for-4 with two doubles, three RBI, three runs scored and this absolute BOMB in a 6-4 Baysox win.
#Orioles No. 4 prospect Austin Hays hit this two-run homer and went 4-for-4 last night with the @BowieBaysox. In eight games since returning from the disabled list, Hays has hit .364 with...— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 18, 2018
⚡️ two homers
⚡️ four doubles
⚡️ 11 RBIs
More: https://t.co/3R34hziS7s pic.twitter.com/iPOyuUjscu
Now that’s the Austin Hays that Orioles fans were expecting to see in 2018. Through 10 games since returning from his rehab stint in Aberdeen, Hays has slashed .325/.350/.575 in his reminder to Baltimore as to why he made it all the way to the big leagues in 2017.
After acquiring Yusniel Diaz at the deadline for Manny, it’s somehow become easy to overlook Austin Hays’s presence in the grand scheme of Orioles’ prospects even though Baseball America ranked him as the #22 overall prospect in all of baseball heading into 2018.
Hopefully Hays can continue to hit the ball well as Bowie’s season winds down over the next two weeks. I’m not sure a September call-up will be in the cards for Austin Hays this year. That would be a question for Dan Duquette. But, Hays may wind up in Baltimore if Trumbo’s knee causes him to be shut down for a significant amount of time. Then again, we also just picked up a 28-year-old journeyman with little power, so who really knows when it comes to the Orioles.
Either way, as Orioles fans already look ahead towards 2019, let’s hope that Hays can regain some of the hype that he had built up heading into this season. With a healthy spring training in 2019, Austin Hays will certainly factor into the Orioles plans next season, and if we are lucky, many more following that one.