Up next on The Baltimore Battery Prospect Profiles Countdown is the No. 6 overall prospect in the Orioles organization, outfielder Austin “Willie Mays” Hays!
Hays, a right-handed hitting outfielder, was drafted in the third round (91st overall) out of Jacksonville University in 2016 by the Orioles.
Hays transferred to Jacksonville from Seminole State College of Florida after his freshman year. Coming out of Hays Spruce Creek High School in Florida in 2013, Hays was considered undersized and ranked as the 40th best outfielder in the state. Consequently, Hays found himself under-recruited, despite winning a State Championship his junior year.
Hays made the decision to attend junior college and worked on his game and physique. That choice paid off, as Hays went on to star at Jacksonville after transfering from Seminole State, posting a .350 batting average with 16 home runs and 42 RBI in 54 games during his junior year, improving across the board from his sophomore campaign.
The Orioles had seen enough and made Hays the sixth highest draft pick in Jacksonville University history, grabbing him in the third round, despite being ranked as the 46th best prospect by Baseball America in that year’s draft.
After being drafted, Hays spent the remainder of 2016 in Single-A Aberdeen, batting .336 with four home runs and four stolen bases in 153 at-bats. This impressive performance earned him a promotion to advanced Single-A Frederick to start the 2017 season.
Hays’ impressive start to his professional career continued, as he belted three home runs in one game for the Keys in May of 2017. Shortly thereafter, Hays was again promoted, this time to Double-A Bowie to finish out the 2017 minor league campaign. Combined on the year, Hays hit .329 with 32 home runs and 95 RBI in only 128 games.
Hays’ monster 2017 minor league season earned him a call-up to Orioles September 5, 2017, making him the first 2016 draft pick to to see time in the majors. With the Orioles, Hays would appear in 20 games, hitting one home run and batting .217 in 60 at-bats.
The 2018 season saw Hays struggle with injury, as he appeared in only 75 games, batting .235 and hitting just 12 home runs between Aberdeen and Bowie.
After suffering a thumb injury in spring training that delayed the start to his season, Hays spent 2019 across all three levels of the Orioles minor league system, logging most of his time in Triple-A Norfolk. On the year, the strong-armed outfielder batted .248 with 17 home runs and nine stolen bases in his 378 at-bats.
The Orioles decided to take another look at Hays at the Major League level, calling him up in September of 2019. Hays’ short stint with the big club was impressive, as he hit four home runs and stole two bases, while batting .309 in his 68 at-bats.
Hays is seen as a prospect that can hit for average and power at the professional level. He is aggressive at the plate, allowing him to drive the ball. However, his aggressiveness cuts down on the number of walks he could potentially take.
Hays’ speed and power profile puts his ceiling as a 30 home run, 20 stolen base player with solid-to-excellent defense, barring injury.
The only concern for Hays is his batting average, which could hover in the lower .200’s if he doesn’t cut down on his aggressiveness at the plate. ZiPS has projected Hays to hit .250, while hitting 21 homers and stealing nine bags in 2020.
2020 should see Hays break spring training with the Orioles and patrol center field throughout the spring and summer. Injuries are always a concern, however, as Hays hasn’t been fully healthy since 2017.
Because Hays has only 128 at-bats at the Major League level, he is eligible for Rookie of the Year status in 2020 (130 is the cutoff). An impressive season would certainly make Hays a strong candidate to become the Orioles’ first Rookie of the Year since Gregg Olson in 1989.
Can’t get enough of Austin Hays? You can follow him on Twitter @TheAustinHaysss, where he is quite active.
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