By Connor Glowacki
Checking in at No. 7 on Baseball America‘s annual list of top 10 Orioles prospects is outfielder Austin Hays. Here are five things to know about the 21-year-old prospect.
1. He Was A Playmaker At College In Jacksonville, Fla.
Hays, a Florida native, had a dominant junior season for Jacksonville University, as the outfielder posted a .350 batting average with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs in 54 games for the Dolphins in 2016. These were all increases from a sophomore season in which Hays batted .271 with three homers and 36 RBIs in 56 games. Former Jacksonville University coach Tim Montez said in February Hays brought a “major league arm” to his outfield. Before Hays was a star at Jacksonville, he played his freshman season at Seminole State College of Florida, a junior college that is part of the Mid-Florida Conference.
2. 2016 Third-Round Pick
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and Co. took the 6-foot-1, 195-pound outfielder with the 91st pick in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Hays became the sixth-highest draft pick in Jacksonville University history. Due to his draft position, he ended up signing a deal worth $665,800.
3. Finding Early Success In The Orioles’ Farm System
Since being drafted by the Orioles, Hays has been busy playing for the Aberdeen IronBirds, Baltimore’s Low-A short-season affiliate. In 38 games for the IronBirds, Hays found success at the plate with a .336 average, four home runs, 21 RBIs and a .514 slugging percentage. One offensive area Hays will need to improve upon is his approach. In 140 at-bats with Aberdeen, Hays struck out 32 times while only generating 11 walks.
4. Getting Experience With All Outfield Positions
In the time Hays has been with the IronBirds, the team has shifted him around to different positions in the outfield to see where he would be most effective in the future. Hays spent the majority of his time in right field in 2016, where he played 173.1 innings. At that particular spot, he generated 31 putouts, three assists and a 97.1 fielding percentage. Hays also played 43 innings in center field and seven innings in left field in 2016. If he is able to keep this production up, his offensive and defensive tools could make him even more valuable for a future call-up to Baltimore.
5. Expect Steady Growth, Not The Fast Track, In The Minors
Hays had a successful experience with the IronBirds, as he was the only regular starter on the team to post a .300-plus batting average. Expect to see him play at some point for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds in 2017 and possibly the High-A Frederick Keys, if he is able to maintain 2016’s production and continue to make strides in the field. There may be an outside chance Hays performs well enough to play for the Double-A Bowie Baysox by the end of the 2017 season.