During big year, outfielder Austin Hays may be underrated

Outfielder Austin Hays of the Double-A Bowie Baysox continues to rake. He was promoted in the middle of June from Single-A Frederick to Bowie and his stats have gotten better at the higher level. A case can be made that Hays is having as good of a season as any player on any team in the minor leagues in 2017.

Austin-Hays-Bowie-at-bat-orange-sidebar.jpgHe ranks among the top 10 among all minor league players at all levels in several key stats. He is second in all of the minors in Weighted Runs Created plus, topping obviously all but one player and topping several that are much higher rated than him by national outlets.

While Hays cracked the top 100 mid-season prospects lists of both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com, he barely made both lists, ranked No. 99. He was not ranked in the top 100 by Fangraphs. You have to wonder if Hays should be listed much higher when the winter lists come out after this season.

By the way, Weighted Runs Created plus (wRC+) is a stat which attempts to credit a hitter for the value of each outcome (single, double, etc.) rather than treat all hits or times on base equally. It is scaled so that league average is 100 and every point above or below is equal to one percentage point better or worse than league average.

Minor league leaders, wRC+, age 27 or younger, min 300 PAs
170 - Oswaldo Arcia, Arizona (age 26.3)
169 - Austin Hays, Baltimore (age 22.1)
165 - Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia (age 24.4)
164 - Garrett Cooper, New York Yankees (age 26.7)
164 - Brendan Lowe, Tampa Bay (age 23.1)
161 - Dalton Kelly, Tampa Bay (age 23.0)
161 - Nick Senzel, Cincinnati (age 22.1)
160 - Yandy Diaz, Cleveland (age 26.0)
160 - Peter Alonso, New York Mets (age 22.7)
160 - Brendan Rodgers, Colorado (age 21.0)

Cincinnati’s Nick Senzel, the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, has a wRC+ of 161. He is ranked No. 9 by Baseball America on the mid-season top 100, 90 spots ahead of Hays. Among the top 10 ranked players in wRC+, Hays is the second youngest at age 22 and is a week younger than Senzel.

Hays’ ranking among all players in minor league baseball:
Homers: 29 (tie for 3rd)
Extra-base hits: 62 (tie for 2nd)
RBIs: 85 (tie for 6th)
Slugging: .607 (tie for 6th)
OPS: .972 (15th)

Most of the players on the wRC+ list are either corner infielders or outfielders. Hays is playing mostly in center field, a premium defensive position for Bowie. And he plays above-average defense with an above-average arm.

Hays was drafted in the third round in June 2016 (no. 91 overall), out of Jacksonville University. He hit .336 last season with short-season Single-A Aberdeen. To start 2017, the Orioles skipped him past Single-A Delmarva and sent him to Frederick. That move proved to be the right one as Hays hit hit .328/.364/.592 in 64 games for the Keys with 15 doubles, three triples, 16 homers, 41 RBIs and an OPS of .956. He was named the organization’s Player of the Month for June, batting .373 with eight homers and 22 RBIs in 26 games. The month began with him at Frederick, and on June 22 he was moved up to Double-A.

He didn’t slow down. In fact, his numbers have gotten better. He was hitting .350 just two days ago, before going 0-for-8 his past two games. Through 46 games for Bowie, Hays is batting .335/.366/.628 with 13 doubles, two triples, 13 homers and 44 RBIs with an OPS of .995. Hays homered once every 16.4 at-bats with Frederick and has homered once every 14.7 at-bats with Bowie.

Hays is known as a high-intensity, high-energy player.

“He runs everything out,” Bowie manager Gary Kendall said. “Everyone should do it, but this guy hits a popup to the infield and he’s almost on second when it gets caught. That is great to see. He leaves it on the field. He provides a lot of energy to our lineup.”

Hays has shown the ability to hit for both average and power this year.

“I feel like I have a good combination of size and speed,” he said. “So I have quick hands and I can generate power with that quickness, but also I have good bat control and that kind of plays for the average side, too.”

Hays is a potential September callup for the Orioles, but if he doesn’t get a big league chance then, no doubt his time likely would come sometime in the 2018 season and maybe at the start of the year. Some project him as the Orioles 2018 right fielder.

Trey Mancini was an Orioles prospect that never broke any top 100 prospects list but now is having major league success. He didn’t have a glossy prospect resume but now has some MLB stats to show that he was underrated while on the O’s farm.

Hays has at least cracked the back-end of those lists. But his play this year and his performance against other top prospects, seems to say he should be ranked much higher than he is right now.

Celebrating OPACY: Fans are encouraged to arrive early on Saturday, as the Orioles celebrate the 25th anniversary season of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Prior to the 7:05 p.m. game against the Angels, the Orioles will honor the first team to play at “The Ballpark That Forever Changed Baseball” when 19 members of the 1992 Orioles return for special reunion festivities.

Among those expected to attend are Orioles Legend and National Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., Orioles Hall of Famers Brady Anderson, Rick Dempsey, Chris Hoiles, Mike Mussina and Gregg Olson as well as former Orioles Dick Bosman, Glenn Davis, Mike Devereaux, Leo Gomez, Sam Horn, Tim Hulett, Ben McDonald, Mark McLemore, Joe Orsulak, Jim Poole, Rick Sutcliffe, Mark Williamson and Orioles bullpen coach and former O’s reliever Alan Mills.

As part of the celebration, Anderson, Devereaux, Hoiles, Horn and Orsulak will take part in a Home Run Derby beginning Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Following the Derby, the returning 1992 Orioles will be introduced on the field at approximately 6:40 p.m. as part of a special ceremony.

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