2019 Level: AAA and majors (Not counting rehab)
Tools (current/future value)
Game Power: 50/60
Raw Power: 55/55
Most Likely Future Role: Everyday Center fielder
Ceiling: Occasional All-Star
What we know: The Austin Hays that was once a top 25 prospect in all of baseball finally started to show back up at the end of 2019 to salvage another injury plagued season. The 23-year old still has the five tools, but injuries have marred his professional career outside of his breakout year in 2017. After arriving in great condition this spring, Hays flashed his promise but was sent to minor league camp to start the season only to have a thumb injury send him to the injured list before the season even started. He finally returned on May 14th as he began a long rehab starting in Frederick and Bowie where he struggled to find his timing. After finally getting promoted back to Norfolk on June 8th, he pressed and tried to do too much to make up for lost time and ended up hurting his hamstring on June 19th, sending him back to the IL. After a short rehab with Aberdeen he return to the Tides on July 11th but struggled to find his timing slashing just .221/.277/.442/.719 in his next 112 PAs. Hays started to look himself over his last 25 games in Norfolk slashing .303/.349/.505/.854 over 106 PAs and earned himself a September callup to the Orioles. That is where Hays shined slashing .309/.373/.574/.947 in 75 PAs while putting up a 89.8 MPH Exit velocity, .393 WOBA, and an above major league average walk percentage (9.3 vs 8.3 avg) and below average strikeout percentage (17.3 vs 21.7 avg). Hays also put up an impressive 41.8% hard hit average, well above the major league average of 34.5%. Hays uses above average hand and bat speed and an aggressive approach that makes him very successful against fastballs, but it does lead him to have struggles at times with breaking and offspeed pitches.
Defensively Hays made some spectacular defensive catches in center field and according to statcast had a 2% catch percentage added to go along with his one outs above average in 20 games (113.1 innings). Hays makes up for a below average reaction time (-1.3 ft) with his above average burst speed (0.5 ft) and good route taking (0.7 ft) and 85th percentile sprint speed (28.6 ft).
What we don’t know: Can he stay healthy over the course of a year with his all out play style? If he does, can he sustain the patient approach he used in the majors over an entire season? Will his struggles against offspeed pitches improve or will major league pitchers give him a healthy diet of them in 2020?
What we think: Hays has all the makings of a solid every day center fielder. Over his last 181 PAs between Norfolk and Baltimore he slashed .305/.359/.533/.892 showing his promise when healthy. Barring any injuries, Hays will be the Orioles starting CF in 2020 and potentially for years to come.
Another Take: Hays hasn’t declined physically from 2017 when he was a top 50 prospect in baseball. He still offers a load of above average tools which have been buried below a handful of injuries and pressing to return to the majors. He gave fans a glimpse of his ability with a really strong September. What I’ll be watching for is whether he can adapt when pitchers adjust their strategy for getting him out. There is some risk due to the vulnerability he’s shown to getting sequenced. The ceiling is an above average regular CF who can do a little bit of everything. (Luke Siler)