Orioles outfield prospect Austin Hays didn't have to wait long for his big moment.
In just his second start in the majors (and his seventh game overall), on Sept. 16 at Yankee Stadium, the 22-year old hit a two-run home run to right-center field.
Earlier in the game, Hays singled for his first major league hit, and he also drew a walk.
"It was definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders there, [got] the monkey off my back," Hays said after the 9-3 loss to the Yankees. "Get the first hit and carry it into a couple more good [at-bats] and putting a good swing on a good pitch to hit that last [at-bat]."
Hays was called up to the majors Sept. 5 and got his first start Sept. 9. After going hitless in his first seven at-bats, he had two-hit games in three of his next five contests.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter started Hays in the Orioles' final 15 games, and while he ended the season in a 2-for-22 slump to finish with a .217 average, a home run and eight RBIs, there were many reasons for optimism.
"He's got a nice confidence about him, but not without respect for what's going on," Showalter said. "There's not a lot of deer in the headlights for him. That's been good to see."
Throughout the season, Showalter monitors every player in the team's farm system, and he was eager to take a look at Hays, who played in seven spring games for the Orioles in March.
Hays put up strong numbers at Class-A Fredrick and Double-A Bowie in 2017, combining to hit .329 with 32 home runs and 95 RBIs. He was named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year.
After being called up to the Orioles, Hays started seven games in center field due to Adam Jones being bothered by sore legs and played right field in the other games.
Jones has campaigned for better defensive outfielders to play beside him in left and right field. It wouldn't be a surprise if Hays and Trey Mancini, who successfully converted to the outfield from first base this year, flanked him in right and left field, respectively, next Opening Day.
Hays made a positive impression on Jones.
"The first thing I'm going to do is not put any restraints on him, like telling him, ‘Don't do this, don't do that,'" Jones said. " … He's got the five tools. You see his numbers. I know they were in the minors, [but] you put up numbers, you put up numbers. That means you have the potential to do something.
"By just seeing him here, plus-arm, plus-speed, and I think he just has to, like anybody else, play here in the big leagues, play here and get the reps. He's doing a very good job. I think he's having really good at-bats, aggressive swing, aggressive approach. ... Next year [he'll] find himself fighting for a job in spring training. I like what I see so far."
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was especially proud of Hays' success. He often pointed out that Hays was the first player from the 2016 draft to play in the majors.
"Very rarely do you see a player come into professional baseball and hit as effectively and efficiently as Austin did," Duquette said.
While Hays, who is barely a year out of college at Jacksonville University, wasn't intimidated by the major league spotlight, the youngster did admit to being taken aback by at least one thing.
"The biggest surprise was how nice everyone is," Hays said. "You're not sure how it's going to be coming in. You don't know if you're going to be accepted. A lot of the guys are a lot older. I'm still experiencing everything. A lot of the older guys put an arm around me and … they've been very helpful to me."
Hays also appreciated some of the perks that come with playing in the majors.
"It's nice not to sit on a bus until four o'clock, five o'clock in the morning, travel all through the night and then turn around and play a game," Hays said. "The food's a lot better. You feel a lot better all the time because your diet's a lot better than it was in the minor leagues, where you're just getting your hands on whatever you can because you're starving."
Hays knows he'll have to produce for the Orioles to continue enjoying those benefits. Showalter believes Hays can do that.
"He's actually played a lot more under control than I was expecting from what I was told," Showalter said. "Just little things like … not diving after a ball that you're 10 feet away from. Sometimes you get a little overzealous and try to make something that's not there. He's engaged. That's good to see. He's not aloof with this, and I think he understands what this opportunity could mean for him."
Issue 238: October 2017