The Baltimore Orioles were the second worst team in baseball last season, and are probably in store for another tough year. However, that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of valuable players in fantasy. Our next “2020 Fantasy Sleepers” piece is on one Orioles player you should keep an eye on: outfielder Austin Hays.
2020 Fantasy Sleepers: Austin Hays
Austin Hays’ name first popped up as a name to watch back in 2017 after a breakout season in the Minors. Drafted in the third round by the Orioles in 2016, Hays ended his first full season in pro baseball with a cup of coffee in the Majors. The Florida native batted .329 across two levels (A+ and AA) in 2017, while smacking 32 home runs, 65 extra base hits and drove in 95 runs. Hays capped off his 2017 season by making his MLB debut on September 7, 2017, and batted .217 in 20 games (60 AB’s) with the O’s.
After his first full season, Hays cemented himself as a future cornerstone of the Orioles, but his next two seasons certainly didn’t go as planned. A shoulder issue, along with an ankle injury that eventually needed surgery limited Hays to just 75 games (all in the Minors) in 2018. This past season, Hays dealt with a thumb injury before the start of the season, and later hurt his hamstring in June. On top of his injury issues, Hays seemed to deviate from the approach that made him successful in 2017, and instead tried to sell out for power and wound up doing more harm than good.
After recovering from the hamstring problem, Hays seemed to rebound a bit, as he batted .270 in AAA between August 1 and the end of Norfolk’s season. Once the Tides season ended, the 24-year old received another opportunity in the Majors, and his second turn with the Orioles was much more successful. Hays, across 21 games with the O’s, batted .309 and hit four home runs, 10 extra base hits and 13 RBI’s.
It was a small sample size, but there’s certainly some positive takeaways, especially when you look at some of other Hays’ numbers. The Jacksonville product displayed a disciplined approach at the plate during his brief stay in the Majors, walking seven times while averaging almost four pitches per plate appearance. In addition, his exit velocity numbers weren’t too bad, either. Hays’ 89.8 MPH average exit velocity off of batted balls was above the MLB average, a good indication that the power numbers he put up were not a fluke.
What to Expect from Hays in 2020
Considering that the Orioles are a rebuilding team, Hays, as long as he stays healthy, will get a long look in the Majors in 2020. After his impressive run with the O’s in September, he should open up the regular season as one of their three starters in the outfield, and could be a part of an intriguing middle of the order for the Orioles, one that already includes Trey Mancini and Renato Nunez. And because Camden Yards has traditionally been a hitter-friendly ballpark, Hays has the potential to be a 20-25 home run hitter in his first full season in the Majors.
However, the concerns surrounding Hays haven’t gone away yet. Besides the injury concerns, will Hays go back to bad habits and try to sell out for power? That approach didn’t work for the 24-year old in the Minors, and it’s not going to work in the Majors.
With that said, we do recommend grabbing Hays late in your draft, but because of the inconsistent track record and injury concerns, it may be best to at least start the season with him as a bench player.
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