A look at minor league outfielder Austin Hays, plus other notes

As a first season in professional baseball goes, it could not have gone too much better in 2016 for right-handed hitting outfielder Austin Hays.

The 21-year-old Hays, the Orioles’ third-round selection (No. 91 overall) last June out of Jacksonville University, made a strong debut. Over 38 games and 140 at-bats at short-season Single-A Aberdeen, Hays batted .336/.386/.514 with nine doubles, two triples, four homers, 21 RBIs and an OPS of .900. He missed time with a sprained right wrist but finished the year healthy.

Hays got off to a fast start, going 5-for-8 and didn’t look back after he had hit .350 with 16 homers in college. With the IronBirds, Hays hit well against both left- (.343) and right-handed (.333) pitching. He hit .391/.444/.516 when batting fourth in the order.

“It was awesome,” Hays said recently at Twin Lakes Park of his first year in the pro ranks. “It really was everything I’ve ever dreamed of. You don’t have other responsibilities like class and homework. You get to show up to the park each day and play a baseball game and that is awesome.

“I think I just carried over the confidence I had from my college season. I didn’t try to change anything or be someone I am not. I just kept playing the same way I’ve always played and had success.”

Orioles bags.jpgHays ended the year ranked as the New-York Penn League’s No. 14 prospect per Baseball America. Among Orioles prospects, he ranks No. 7 by Baseball America, No. 8 by MLBPipeline.com and FanGraphs.com, and No. 10 by ESPN.

Hays is a player that some scouts feel has at least average tools, if not above, across the board. He has a plus arm that plays well in right field, but some feel he will end up as a center fielder and he has played both positions in camp.

He played three seasons in college - one year at Seminole State (Fla.) College and two seasons with Jacksonville.

“My junior college season, it was a jump up in talent level and (there was some) getting used to some kids being bigger, stronger and faster,” Hays said. “When I got to Jacksonville, the coaching staff that I had, they played professional baseball. Coach (Chuck) Jeroloman and (head) coach (Chris) Hays. They tried to have a professional atmosphere when it came to practice and the way we went about our business, so everything I did there was stuff I can do on a daily basis here. Most of the drills we do here and stuff we do here in practice for the outfield and with baserunning are things I did in college. So what I did there prepared me for what I was going to do here.”

Hays could wind up moving up to Single-A Delmarva this year and there has also been discussion that he could skip the low-A level and move right to advanced Single-A Frederick. No matter which team he winds up with, he’s just looking for more of the same from last season.

“I would say to just to do the exact same thing I did last season. Just try to end at the highest possible level that I can,” he said.

When I asked Hays to size up his biggest strength and weakness, he provided an interesting answer. His strength can also be a weakness, he said.

“I would say the biggest thing that I want to get better at is learning to control my aggression,” said Hays. “The way I play the game sometimes, I get myself in trouble. Meaning sometimes I get overaggressive at the plate and on the bases. I’m a max-effort guy and I want to go, go, go. Sometimes I don’t always think about the situation and get wrapped up in the emotion of the game, instead of taking a step back and looking at the situation.

“But at the same time, I would also say that is one of my biggest strengths. I’m never intimidated by another player or another team or the competition that I’m playing. I’m just always ready to play and as a max-effort guy I give 100 percent every day.”

Minor matters: The Orioles will play their final exhibtion game Friday afternoon at 3:05 p.m. against their Triple-A Norfolk affiliate at Harbor Park, weather permitting. Tickets went on sale earlier this month to the general public, with box seats available for $25 and reserved seats at $22. Fans can purchase tickets online via norfolktides.com, in person at the Harbor Park box office or via telephone at 1-800-745-3000.

The Double-A Bowie Baysox announced several new ticket options for fans during the 2017 season, including the ability to print tickets at home at no additional charge. The cost of a ticket in 2017 will again remain the same for a fifth consecutive season, with regular prices starting as low as $7.

This is the first time in 25 seasons the Baysox have offered fans the print-at-home option. When purchasing single game tickets from www.baysox.com, fans will now have the opportunity to print their tickets from home and bring them directly to the front gate instead of having them mailed or picking them up from will call. Baysox single game tickets go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 1 during the team’s annual Free Family FunFest event at Prince George’s Stadium.

The Aberdeen IronBirds and RAACE (Race Against Abuse of Children Everywhere), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to eliminating child sexual abuse, have announced a multiyear partnership to provide a safe and family-fun experience both at the ballpark and in the local community. The two-year collaboration includes a RAACE-branded redesign and upgrades to the Ferrous & Friends Kids Zone at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, as well as various fundraising opportunities each season.

An opening for Mancini?: Does the news that the Orioles have waived Rule 5 outfielder Aneury Tavárez mean Trey Mancini will make the opening day roster? Mancini has a lot of fans and they are growing with each pitch he lines into the gap. He’s had a great spring and may well have earned himself a spot on the roster.

But that is just the first step. If the Orioles decide to keep him, how will they use him if Chris Davis is playing first base and Mark Trumbo is the designated hitter? Is the club ready for Mancini to play the outfield regularly? It looked like Joey Rickard and Craig Gentry would be the right-handed hitting side of outfield platoons, but does Mancini’s big spring change any of those plans?

Meanwhile, if Tavárez clears waivers and goes back to the Red Sox, would that be temporary? Could the O’s trade for him and keep him without the Rule 5 restrictions? That would be a nice pickup but it would take a subtraction in a trade. It would seem the Red Sox would have a lot of leverage in such trade talks. If Tavárez is one of the top 30 Orioles prospects (he’s ranked No. 17 by Baseball America, No. 24 by MLBPipeline.com), won’t Boston want a prospect ranked about at that same level in return? And if so, should the Orioles do that deal?

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