BALTIMORE -- About an hour before the scheduled start of the Orioles' game Sept. 5, the team made an announcement that many fans were eager to hear.
The Orioles were bringing 22-year-old outfielder Austin Hays to the major leagues.
Hays, who was the team's third-round draft choice in 2016 and is the favorite to be named the Orioles' Minor League Player of the Year, becomes not only the first member of his draft class to make it to the majors, but he also got there before all the Orioles' draftees from 2014 and 2015.
"Austin Hays has distinguished himself with his play in all areas since being drafted 100th in the 2016 draft," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "He has all the tools you look for in an everyday major league ballplayer, and he has grit. … Hays can hit for power and is especially effective versus left-handed pitchers."
Hays did not play during the Orioles' 7-6 win against the New York Yankees Sept. 5.
After attending Jacksonville University, Hays hit .336 with four home runs and 21 RBIs with the short-season Class-A Aberdeen IronBirds in 2016.
This year, Hays played 128 games -- 64 for the Class-A Advanced Frederick Keys and 64 for Double-A Bowie Baysox. He hit .329 with 32 home runs and 95 RBIs and played both center and right field.
"He's special," Keys manager Keith Bodie said. "His ability to hit the fastball is what I like most about him. He has average speed, but he has above-average instincts. You know exactly what you are going to get from him. This guy plays the game hard."
Hays is expected to get time in right field for the Orioles with Craig Gentry on the 10-day disabled list with a fractured right middle finger.
Joey Rickard has started the past three games in right. The Orioles also have Rule 5 draft choice Anthony Santander, but he hasn't started a game since Aug. 19, the day after he was activated from the 60-day disabled list.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Hays, the Orioles designated left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino for assignment.
Aquino was 1-2 with a 7.43 ERA in four games with the Orioles this season and was 3-10 with a 4.24 ERA for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.
Moments before the Hays announcement was made, the Orioles had concluded a media session with 20-year-old Australian left-hander Alex Wells, who was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Wells was 11-5 with a 2.38 ERA for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds and walked just 10 batters in 140 innings -- none in his last 68 innings.
"I didn't really think about it that much," Wells said of the streak. "Try to forget about it and go out and pitch my game."
Duquette said of Wells: "Good intelligence, excellent instincts, and I hope he has a long career with the Orioles."
MINOR LEAGUE NOTES: Frederick third baseman Jomar Reyes was named the Carolina League Player of the week. … Norfolk shortstop Luis Sardinas was named the International League Hitter of the Week. … Right-handed pitchers Logan Verrett and Tyler Wilson cleared waivers and were assigned outright to Norfolk.
Photo Credit: Patrick Cavey