Michael Kelly on rotation chance, Austin Hays on building on 2017

Right-hander Michael Kelly was a minor league free agent this winter, but now he may have a major opportunity. Signed by the Orioles to a major league contract in December on the day of the Rule draft 5, the 25-year-old right-hander is among a handful of in-house rotation candidates.

Kelly had other teams showing interest in December, but signed with the Orioles because, like the rest of us, he knew the club had - and still has - just two established pitchers in its rotation.

“I truly like the opportunity here,” Kelly said. “Talking to Dan (Duquette), just had a good vibe and felt like it’s a good fit. Can’t beat the opportunity. They said it was open for the taking, and if I go in and perform, anything can happen. We had a few options we were weighing out, but in the end, this seemed like the best fit.”

Drafted No. 48 overall in 2011 by the San Diego Padres, Kelly has gone 34-35 with a 4.96 ERA in six minor league seasons. At Double-A last year, he went an impressive 7-2 with a 2.98 ERA over 85 innings. But in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League he was 3-2 with a 6.64 ERA over 42 innings.

He was born in Boynton Beach, Fla., but grew up a fan of the orange and black as he watched and admired Cal Ripken Jr.

“I’ve always been an Orioles fan,” Kelly said. “I watched them growing up. I’ve actually never met anyone on the (current) team before this weekend. It’s been great. I can tell everyone jells and they have great chemistry. It’s an awesome environment to be around.”

Austin-Hays-Bowie-at-bat-orange-sidebar.jpgGoing from a young pitcher to a young outfielder, Austin Hays is today taking part in his first FanFest. Now he will head into spring training, not necessarily looking to make the roster in the higher levels of the minors, but at the big league level. He hit .217 in 20 major league games last September.

“I will just try to go in (to spring training) the same way I did last season,’ he said. “I was very prepared and my body held up well. I was healthy through most of the season. So I’m not changing anything. I’m still me.”

Hays, ranked as baseball’s No. 21 prospect this week by Baseball America, was asked if he is surprised he got to the majors so quickly after being a third round pick in 2016.

“I don’t want to say I’m surprised. I say I’m blessed and I’m happy to be in this situation,” he said.

After a big year on the farm where he hit .329/.365/.593 with 32 homers and 95 RBIs in 2017 between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, Hays now looks to build on that as a new season approaches.

“It is the same with anyone else,” he said of trying to improve his game. “You just don’t want to let one bat at-bat carry into a couple of at-bats or a couple of games. Just small things like that. Just make smarter decisions in the outfield and just continuing to mature as a player.”

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