Austin Hays looks to regain top form in 2019

After a frustrating year where he missed many games and ended it undergoing ankle surgery, Orioles outfield prospect Austin Hays is heading into 2019 with a positive outlook and a right ankle that is returning to full health.

Hays had surgery Sept. 13 to repair cartilage damage that led to several other issues with that ankle during the season. But after a two- to three-month recovery, he should be fine for spring training, where he can make a run at a 2019 roster spot.

The injury limited Hays to 75 games last year, 66 with Double-A Bowie. He hit .235/.266/.410 with an OPS of .676. This followed a breakout 2017 that ended with Hays being a finalist for Baseball America’s national Player of the Year with the likes of Ronald Acuña and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

In 2017, between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, the 23-year-old Hays hit .329/.365/.593 with 32 doubles, five triples, 32 homers, 95 RBIs and an OPS of .958. He was named the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year.

Austin Hays swinging gray sidebar.jpg“I just was really confident (in 2017),” said Hays. “I started out the year well and when I would have a bad game here or there, I would not let it carry onto the next day. I could turn the page. I just seemed to stay hot throughout the whole year. This year, when I started off cold, I think I panicked a little bit. Started trying to change things and started having some negative thoughts. Just need to get back to that really positive mindset, keeping everything simple and having fun. I think that is what made me good in 2017 and that is what I’m trying to get back to.”

Hays will try to stick with the basics in 2019.

“I’m just going to focus on small things and keeping it simple,” he said. “Focusing on timing moreso than mechanics and just stay very simple with everything. Get back to the basics of hitting. Hit the middle of the ball with the good part of the bat.”

Drafted in the third round in 2016, Hays has played just two full seasons on the farm. His career numbers are .300./337/.523 in 241 games. He knows it’s a great time to be a young player for a rebuilding team.

“We always like to talk about the future and getting opportunities and that time is now,” he said. “It’s time to take advantage of every opportunity given to us and we’ll see what we can do. I got to get my feet wet in the majors in 2017 and just being able to use everything up there with video and scouting reports, I’ve had some experience with that. Just look forward to getting back into routines in spring training.”

I asked Hays if his goal is to make the 2019 opening day roster or if he has to temper that a bit coming off the injury.

“My biggest thing is I just want to go into spring training and have a healthy camp.” he said. “I wasn’t able to do that last year and that is my main focus this year. I’ll let the rest take care of itself and the results take care of themselves. But I want to go in, get myself right and have a healthy camp.”

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