Baltimore Orioles: Austin Hays shows why we should remain optimistic

Since returning from the IL, Austin Hays has been hot at the plate for the Baltimore Orioles.

The last five years have been quite the rollercoaster for Baltimore Orioles outfielder Austin Hays.

Drafted in the third round of the 2016 MLB draft out of Jacksonville University, Hays became the first member of his draft class to reach the big leagues, making his MLB debut on September 7, 2017, after just 166 minor league games and bypassing Triple-A.

His big league debut went largely as expected for such a young and inexperienced prospect, but he flashed moments that showed Baltimore Orioles fans what type of player he can be and that’s a high-motor outfielder who can fly around the bases and change a game with one swing of his bat

Unfortunately, injuries derailed his 2018 season as he played in just 66 games in Double-A (nine in Low-A) and never found his way back to the major leagues.

The 2019 season was much of the same. Injuries kept him bouncing between four levels of the minor leagues as he struggled to find a consistent groove at the plate. That’s until the Orioles decided to bring him back up to the majors in September to close out the season facing major league pitching.

Hays was electric in his short September stint, flashing the leather on defense and recording 10 extra-base hits in 21 games with a .309/.373/.574 slash line and 146 wRC+.

It was a rough start to the 2020 season for Baltimore Orioles outfielder Austin Hays.

Enter 2020 and what was supposed to be another 100+ loss season for the Baltimore Orioles, in a non-COVID world. Despite the low expectations of this team, many fans pointed to Austin Hays as a potential bright spot and one of the more intriguing storylines to follow throughout the 2020 season.

Hays made it just 19 games before missing a month due to a fractured rib after being hit by a pitch. The difference going into this trip to the Injured List was that Hays went on the IL sporting a .203 average, .273 OBP, and only one extra-base hit, a 10th-inning go-ahead inside-the-park home run against the Philadelphia Phillies back on August 11th.

During his month-long IL stint, the Baltimore Orioles saw Anthony Santander‘s scorching-hot season come to an early end due to a strained oblique, but also saw the rise of Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart from the ashes.

Related Story: The unexplainable outfield breakthrough in Baltimore

The hot play from Mullins, Stewart, and Santander before his injury, plus the emergence of Ryan Mountcastle and the hopeful return of Trey Mancini next season may leave the Orioles with an extremely crowded outfield and plenty of questions to answer.

One of those questions fans were beginning to ask involved Austin Hays. After yet another injury and rough start to 2020, legitimate questions as to whether or not the Orioles should be optimistic about Hays entering 2021 have begun to creep in.

Those questions may have been a bit premature. Since his return from the IL, Hays has been red-hot for the Orioles.

Hays has two hits in four of his seven games, including a double, his first over-the-fence home run, and just four strikeouts in 22 at-bats (1.006 OPS). He has also looked really good in left field where he has seen more time lately due to Cedric Mullins playing his way into the regular lineup.

This is exactly what the Baltimore Orioles needed to see out of Austin Hays to close out the final two weeks of the regular season. It won’t be many at-bats, but Hays has to give the organization and fans a reason to be optimistic heading into 2021 and he’s quickly stepped in and started to do just that.

Next: Ryan Mountcastle has been worth the wait

It’s going to be fun to watch the outfield situation unfold next year at Camden Yards and a healthy Austin Hays only makes the competition that much more exciting.