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Austin Hays is showing exactly what he needs to

Incremental improvements will surely put Hays on the Orioles’ 2020 radar.

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s winding down, the great misery. It’s winding down.

You aren’t going to break news when you tell your friends that the Orioles are bad. As you wear your Orioles apparel out in public, and subsequently have strangers give you weird looks or even have the gall to remind you that the Orioles bad, you aren’t being fed new information.

As the Orioles continue to reshape the front office as well as the scope of its baseball operations, we’ve seen the old discontinued for the new, leaving the likes of B.J. Surhoff disgruntled. Executive vice president Mike Elias has been very clear in the how he plans to transform the Orioles from a cheap, talent-dry franchise into a contender in the American League.

As it pertains to the likes of Michael Baumann, Cody Sedlock and others, we’ve seen how the implemented technology has boosted the stock of a myriad of Dan Duquette selections. Yes, losing more games is unfortunately a good thing for the Orioles organization, because it is what it is. This is where we are because this is where we were left, and changing the dynamics of the organization is a result of the Orioles being so, so far behind their competition.

That isn’t to say that the Orioles weren’t already in the possession of some talent. Duquette’s recent drafts will likely be forgotten in the years to come because of the regime change, but someone like Austin Hays was interesting before, and he’s become interesting again.

Since his recall, Hays has recorded a 143 wRC+ in 14 games, the cause of a .936 OPS while hitting two home runs and four doubles in 43 plate appearances. Hays is already on the precipice of matching his 2019 ZiPS-projected 0.6 WAR over 115 games, having already posted a 0.5 WAR in two weeks.

As Elias stated, young players like Hays would not see their names announced at Camden Yards until he felt they were legitimately ready for the opportunity. Someone like Hays, known for his high swing-and-miss tendencies, was told repeatedly those negative traits would need to be cleaned up if he wanted to play at baseball’s highest level. Being in the position I’m in, I’m not privy to his minor league numbers that relate to his plate discipline, but his small sample size is universally better than the last time we saw him.

Against his 2017 numbers, those being 63 plate appearances, his whiff rate has decreased six percent, as has his chase rate, while he’s made substantially more contact on fewer swings. Because of more calculated swings, Hays’ contact rate has jumped nine percent, and his average exit velocity has jumped three miles per hour compared to his brief stint two years ago.

This success has a lot to do with the fact that Hays crushes fastballs.

In terms of fastball success, Hays has quickly compiled a weighted fastball value of 3.4 according to Pitch Info, a large step up from his -1.2 figure in 2017. In terms of bat speed and bat efficiency, there aren’t a lot of hitters in the Orioles organization that utilize their hands better than Hays, all of which translates to the kind of power we’ve seen in such a short period of time.

Hays, because of his bat and his athleticism in the outfield, is quickly becoming the kind of player that the Orioles are going to need going forward. Still only 24 years old, he’s cut down on bad swings, he’s shown how his bat speed translates to power, and there will be plenty of opportunities for more repetitions in the spring of 2020 when he eventually cracks the opening day roster.

The Orioles are in the midst of an arduous process, just as Elias outlined before and then again today. The hiring and firing that’s taken place within the organization is a testament of what Elias hopes to accomplish and how that process needs to be completed.

Even as a holdover from the previous administration, Austin Hays is taking advantage of his limited opportunity, and in essence, that opportunity will surely extend into the next year.