Everyone has heard of the young, flashy rookies like Aaron Judge, Andrew Benintendi, Cody Bellinger, and Rhys Hoskins. They are no secret, but new Orioles outfielder Austin Hays sure is outside the state of Maryland. The 22-year old from Daytona Beach was a 2016 third round draft pick out of Jacksonville University, and shot through the minor leagues. Hays had a stellar stint in Frederick, hitting 16 home runs and driving in 41 through 64 games before receiving a promotion to Bowie late June. Once in Bowie, all Hays did was continue to impress. Hays hit 16 home runs while driving in 54 to lead Bowie to the AA playoffs before receiving the call up to Baltimore. Hays' .329/.365/.593 slash line with 32 home runs across A+ and AA ball went a lot quieter than it should have been, even inside the Orioles organization. Chance Sisco took the attention of fans as they awaited his big league arrival, and Hays' emergence flew totally under the radar, at least to casual fans.
Hays' arrival to the big leagues signals the start of a new era in Baltimore, one where the Orioles have an every day right fielder, something they haven't had since the departure of Nick Markakis in 2014. 16 different Orioles have manned right field since the start of 2015, one of the largest turnovers at any position in the league during that span. Hays should be a mainstay in the corner outfield for the time being, although a move to centerfield could be in the works with the possible departure of Adam Jones after 2018.
The early numbers aren't fantastic, but Hays has shown the upside that landed him 89th on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. In 50 at-bats, Hays holds a .240 average with one home run and eight RBI: Nothing impressive, but that's going to happen when you start the season in A ball.
There's something to be said about a guy who can be thrown straight into a major league lineup, albeit an Orioles team with nothing to play for but a draft pick, and not have him be a liability on offense or defense. It will take some time for Hays to adapt to MLB pitching, but it will happen. There's not enough of a sample size to really depict what kind of player Hays is going to be over a full major league season, but a swing built for lots of contact and speed on the bases and outfield build some confidence for sustained success. He is worth our time and attention in the Orioles' final series of 2017, in 2018, and beyond.
There will be rookie power rankings this offseason, and Hays may or may not show up. Flying under the radar is just what Orioles rookies do. Isn't that right, Trey Mancini?