Hays may be hovering over Orioles outfield

HOUSTON - While the Orioles continued to audition Anthony Santander in right field yesterday with DJ Stewart on the injured list, one of their top prospects joined the highest affiliate for the first time in his professional career.

Austin Hays started in center field last night with Triple-A Norfolk and went 2-for-5 with a double. Release the streamers and confetti.

Hays-Leaps-Orange-sidebar.jpgThe rehab portion of Hays’ season is finished. His thumb is healed and he no longer needs at-bats below his assigned level.

Hays appeared in 14 games with Double-A Bowie and nine with Single-A Frederick. He slashed .268/.328/.518 with five doubles and three home runs with the Baysox and convinced the Orioles that he was ready to be introduced to the International League.

A spot opened for Hays with Santander promoted to the Orioles as Dwight Smith Jr.’s replacement. Smith is on the seven-day concussion injured list.

It’s easy to forget that Hays hadn’t played at Triple-A, because he made the jump from Bowie to the Orioles in September 2017. Injuries to his shoulder and ankle kept him in the Eastern League last summer.

Hays could make it back to Baltimore later this year if he’s repeating his success in spring training, where he batted .351/.385/.892 with three doubles, a triple, five home runs and 13 RBIs. He covered a lot of ground in the outfield and ran the bases as though the ankle surgery never happened.

How he’d fit in the Orioles outfield - if we’re not getting ahead of ourselves here - is an interesting question.

Trey Mancini is going to get most of his starts in right field as long as Chris Davis is on the roster. Smith is going to play left field.

Keon Broxton is receiving an extended look in center before the Orioles make a final judgement. He’s out of minor league options and worth the investment.

Homering on the first pitch thrown to him made good copy, but Broxton is 0-for-16 since connecting off Drew Smyly and 4-for-34 since May 26. He’s batting .196/.229/.413 in 13 games with the Orioles

Broxton struck out four times Friday night and twice yesterday while going 0-for-4, popping up a bunt in the second inning after Santander’s infield hit. He’s been a defensive upgrade in center field because he has skills and he isn’t an infielder learning a new position, but a hot-hitting Hays could apply pressure.

That is, of course, unless the front office is committed to giving Hays lots of at-bats at Triple-A as part of the developmental process. His 2018 season was largely wasted - much like Jeff Spicoli except in baseball terms - due to the injuries.

Hays and Cedric Mullins could be racing to Camden Yards. Mullins got a head start, breaking camp with the team before being optioned and appearing in 36 games with the Tides, but he’s hoisting a .215 average after going 2-for-5 last night.

Mullins started in left field last night. Hays was handed center.

* Ten of Richie Martin’s 24 hits have gone for extra bases - five doubles, two triples and three home runs. He’s homered twice on the current road trip.

* Miguel Castro has turned in five consecutive scoreless appearances after retiring all four batters he faced yesterday.

He’s allowed only three hits over 9 1/3 scoreless innings and his ERA is down to 5.35.

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