TORONTO - So he’s had a pretty good season. It began at Single-A Frederick, moved onto Double-A Bowie and he’s ending it with the Orioles. It has happened faster than anyone could have predicted, but outfielder Austin Hays, the club’s third-round pick last June, is in the major leagues now.
Whether he starts next season with the Orioles we’ll find out later, but Hays has a had a fantastic year. Between the two minor league clubs, he’s hit .328/.364/.592 with 32 doubles, five triples, 32 homers, 81 runs and 95 RBIs.
He is the first player from the 2016 draft class to make the majors. He was a finalist for Baseball America’s Player of the Year Award and he was named MLBPipeline.com’s center field Prospect of the Year. He led all minor league players in total bases (310) and finished second in homers (32) and extra-base hits (69).
Barring the biggest upset we’ve probably ever seen, he’s going to soon be named the Orioles’ 2017 minor league Player of the Year.
He’s now been in the majors for eight days. Eight pretty special and remarkable days in the life of a 22-year-old. Here is a Q&A conducted with Hays before Tuesday’s game at Rogers Centre.
What has the first week with the Orioles been like?: “The first couple of days were very hectic. That first day I found out last second and had to rush to the stadium. I had a lot of emotions going on - happy, anxious, nervous. But it’s finally started to settled down. Got an opportunity to go on the road and that gave me time to get to the stadium early and get into my normal routine with my swings and taking some fly balls on the field. Starting to build some relationships with the guys and see how they go about their business every day. It’s been awesome.”
Is there a lot to gain here even without everyday at-bats?: “Sure. Just scenarios I have to play through my head in the dugout. Almost have to have a manager’s mindset, since I am not starting every day like I was. It is new to me. I come in and stretch during the sixth inning and get ready in case I need to pinch-run or come in maybe for a left-handed matchup. Just surrounding myself with guys like (Joey) Rickard and (Ryan) Flaherty and see how they prepare if they are not starting that day. It is different, but just trying to keep the same mindset and routine.”
Has it been everything you thought?: “Yeah. It really is very exciting. It took a couple of days for the butterflies to go away before I could truly enjoy it. But it really is a dream. It’s great.”
What was your first start Saturday at Cleveland like?: “I was nervous and excited. I felt a little bit different before I got out on the field and was standing in the dugout. But once I got out there and the first pitch was thrown, I felt like myself. I felt normal. And then in the on-deck circle, walking up to the box. Once I stepped in and looked at the pitcher, it felt normal, it felt great.”
You have handled this year so well, moving up to Bowie and now here. How have you done that?: “I think it is just (due to) the preparation and the mindset. Coming in every day and getting your tee work done. Going through your outfield work. Then it’s the thought process you have walking up to the plate and your pre-pitch routine on defense. I think those little things are something that make it a lot easier, no matter where you are or at what level you are playing.”
How have the other players been with you?: “It’s been great. I had a high school coach tell me one time, ‘There are no stupid questions, only stupid people.’ I’ve been really open to asking questions, no matter what it is about, and the guys have been great. They are very open and I’ve been welcomed into the clubhouse. It’s been great being around these guys.”
So Rickard and Flaherty have been the most helpful?: “Yeah, I would say throughout the game, being on the bench and as far as what to think and be ready for, those are the guys that have helped me out the most. I try to stay near them.”
Have you started to think about next year and possibly a bigger role with the O’s?: “Still not thinking about 2018. My mindset is here on this season. There are still three weeks left, so a lot can happen in three weeks. Just focusing on today for now.”
About last night: The Orioles offense continues to not put up many runs and their pitching staff has little margin for error. On what was for him a very rare night, a one-run lead was not enough for Zach Britton last night. He suffered his second blown save since the start of the 2016 season as Toronto scored two in the last of the ninth to beat the Orioles 3-2.
The Orioles (71-74) have lost six in a row, the last four by two, one, one and one run. Yep, pretty frustrating for players and fans. The Orioles are winless in five games on this road trip and have scored 10 runs over the past six games.
They have fallen 4 1/2 games out in the wild card race and the playoffs are becoming more of a long shot each day. The fat lady hasn’t sung yet, but she may be warming up in the wings. The O’s and Toronto play the finale of their series tonight at Rogers Centre.
Click here for last night’s game story and postgame quotes.