When he's not on the injured list, Orioles minor-league outfielder Austin Hays has been exactly the type of player the team expected him to be when they drafted him out of Jacksonville University in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
Hays hit .329/.365/.593 with High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie in 2017, earning him a look at the major-league level in September 2017. He hit .217 with eight RBIs and a home run in 60 at-bats with the Orioles. But he spent time on the injured list nursing an ankle injury in 2018, which eventually required surgery. Most recently, he sprained his thumb during a minor-league spring training game in March, which has limited him to just 17 games this season.
Despite the rash of injuries, Hays says he has learned to be more patient than he thought he was capable of being by staying positive and focused on the goal of eventually returning to the majors.
"It helps being surrounded by a lot of good staff as far as the training staff and the coaches and just having good teammates that are always there and they're always upbeat every day," Hays said on
Glenn Clark Radio
May 29. "To be able to be around them and see them doing well, playing well, having fun, it definitely helps through the whole process."
As is the case with most high draft picks, there are expectations for Hays within the organization and from the fan base to play a major role in helping the Orioles' rebuild. But Hays, who is still only 23, said he doesn't really feel the pressure.
"I want to get into a good routine and get into a good mindset," Hays said, "If I can start with that and then carry that into my work and my routines and everything that I do every single day, I build the confidence in myself and a confidence that I'm prepared to go out and play well on the field. If I can go do those two things the results on the field will take care of themselves, and the whole process and everything that occurs after that kind of falls into place."
Hays said he is further encouraged by the progress of former teammates DJ Stewart and Mike Yastrzemski, both of whom have gotten opportunities to play in the majors this season. Stewart (Orioles) and Yastrzemski (San Francisco Giants) were recently called up to the big leagues.
"I'm really happy to see what happened with Yaz. That's one of my good friends, that's one of my boys," Hays said. "So when he got traded in spring training, I was really happy for him because I felt like [with] the place he was going to, there's going to be a really good chance that he could go up to the big leagues and he came out swinging. It seemed like every time I check the box score, he was 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs."
Yastrzemski, 28, spent five years in the Orioles' system before getting traded to San Francisco this spring. He made his major-league debut May 25 and played at Camden Yards May 31-June 2.
"He flew through the minor-league system as well. It was his first or second full season and he made it all the way up to Triple-A," Hays said. "... He always showed up to the field, he always worked hard, he always had a positive mindset. He was a great teammate. Now, look how this year turned out for him. Everything worked out and I hope he can run for it as long as possible. And I'm really happy for him."
With the Orioles in full rebuild mode, Hays said there is a sense of excitement in the farm system because it could mean any player could get a chance to be called up at any time.
"Everybody's got a little just an extra aura, or whatever you want to call it, every day when they get to the field," Hays said, "knowing that, 'If I have a really good day today or a really good weekend anything could happen. I might get that call.'"
Before he injured his thumb, Hays was having a strong spring. He hit .351/.385/.892 with the Orioles before being sent down. Now, he wants to continue building on the good foundation he established in the spring by improving his baserunning, mobility and defensive reads.
"I'm working every day just to get my defense where it needs to be," Hays said. "As far as offensively, I want to get my timing on the fastball and I think everything feeds off that. If you're [on time for the] fastball you start to see the breaking ball better, lay off the stuff out of the zone. If I can stay in the zone and swing at pitches that I can drive, I think I'll be fine."
For more from Hays, listen to the full interview here: