26 September 2017

Austin Hays, 20th OF Taken in the 2016 Draft

Ever since Nick Markakis took a mid-winter train to Georgia, the Orioles have struggled to figure out what to do with right field.  A motley crew of Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith, Nolan Reimold, Travis Snider, Joey Rickard, Alejandro de Aza, Gerardo Parra, and some other guys have been able to put up a fWAR of 0.6 while Nick plugs along delivering a cumulative 3.3 fWAR for just a couple million more per season.  It, sadly, was not one of the better outcomes for the Orioles in that they failed so completely in finding a replacement as opposed to Markakis really doing much of anything down in Atlanta.

However, now the Orioles have experienced some measure of hope.  Austin Hays was selected in the third round of the 2016 and has been on a rocket ride to the majors.  It has been a stunningly quick development and one that could greatly aid the franchise in maintaining it recent winning ways.  However, what we are seeing right now was in no way foreseen last year.

At the time of the draft, Austin Hays was considered a true five tool player, but not someone you think about when you think about five tools.  In JuCo, he showed the ability to hit, have power, run well, cover ground in the outfield, and show a decent arm.  Everything was there, but none of the tools could carry him forward alone.  The concern was that he would need each tool to carry over to the next level and beyond.  Generally, when you see a five tool player, you see one tool having the potential to break out and dominate.  You may look for light tower power, incredible plate coverage, or excellent defense at a prime position.  Hays had none of this and that is why he dropped to the third round.

When you look at the 19 outfielders taken before him, you see several guys who have some loud tools.  A guy like Mickey Moniak has incredible bat control. Corey Ray has power and great athleticism.  Deeper down you see similar things.  Jake Fraley looks to be an excellent defensive center fielder.  That is generally what you see, guys with a carrying tool as opposed to Hays who was an all around JuCo player.  Those guys tend not to break out.

Pick Name School Team Class YrAA
1 Mickey Moniak HS Phillies A -2.5
5 Corey Ray 4Yr Brewers A+ -0.6
11 Kyle Lewis 4Yr Mariners A+ -1.6
14 Will Benson HS Indians A- -2
15 Alex Kirilloff HS Twins Rk(Inj) -1.5
18 Blake Rutherford HS Yankees A -1.5
33 Dylan Carlson HS Cardinals A -3.2
35 Taylor Trammell HS Reds A -2.2
39 Anfernee Grier 4Yr Dbacks A -0.2
48 Buddy Reed 4Yr Padres A 0.8
53 Ryan Boldt 4Yr Rays A+ -0.7
57 J.B. Woodman 4Yr Blue Jays A 0.8
59 Bryan Reynolds 4Yr Giants A+ -0.6
60 Brandon Marsh HS Angels Rk -1.7
61 Ronnie Dawson 4Yr Astros A+ -0.6
74 Akil Baddoo HS Twins Rk -2.4
77 Jake Fraley 4Yr Rays A+ -0.7
84 Thomas Jones HS Marlins A- -2
86 Alex Call 4Yr White Sox A+ -0.6
91 Austin Hays 4Yr Orioles MLB -7.7

Well, Hays broke out in an incredibly interesting way.  In general, evaluation models view each rung of the professional ladder to be increasingly difficult.  This is quantified by looking at players playing at one level who then move up.  As a population, performance decreases as you move up.  Hays began at A+, did well, and then moved up to AA.  You tend to expect a decrease in performance of about 20% in general.  A jump to AAA would result typically in a drop of 10%.  The move from AAA to MLB also is about a 10% reduction.

Now, those are generic values of a highly encapsulated metric.  You certainly can have a player who can dominate AA or AAA, who lacks the ability to succeed at an MLB level.  A player may well be able to feast on lower quality talent at those rungs while just getting by against true MLB quality players.  Or a player can fly under the radar for longer as scouting reports take longer to catch up with MiL players than MLB players.  So what did Hays do?

Register Batting

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/22/2017.

Hays dominated A+.  He experienced zero decrease in performance at AA, outperforming the expectation by around 20%.  In a handful of at bats, Hays has shown some ability in the majors, performing about 23% better than expected.  To be obvious and succinct, Hays has had an impressive year.

Based on my discussions with scouts, it appears that what was missed on Hays was how good his hit tool actually was.  Coming out of JuCo, he did have a more polished approach than most draftees selected in the top three rounds, but it was still a swing that would require some adjustment to a wood bat.  That adjustment went without any growing pains and with all his batting attributes translating over.  It was unexpected and something the Orioles did not expect either or else they would have selected him much higher.

That said, if his hit tool is more on the 60-65 end than on the 50 end, he looks much more like a MLB player than he did before.  The only lingering issue we see if that he appears to be relatively unable to walk.  Typically, MLB quality pitchers are able to paint outside the corners well enough where batters either die swinging or learn to sit back and earn some walks.  So there is some concern that Hays could turn into a Jeff Francoeur without the arm.

Looking ahead to 2018, it would be a shock if Austin Hays is not handed the right field position at the start of Spring Training.  However, it would be aggressively foolish for the club to have no suitable Plan B waiting in the wings.  Hays has been tearing through the leagues, but he is a hitter who depends heavily on being able to cover the entire strike zone without holding back to earn walks.  That is a profile that is uncommon and, when seen, tends to lead to failure.  It would benefit the club to find a fourth or fifth outfield option to hedge their bets.

Internally, Cedric Mullins might be able to fill that role.  He was the guy before the year who the front office name dropped repeatedly to local writers as being one of the best prospects in the system.  We noted him two years ago with a ceiling of league average centerfielder, but more likely as a 4th or 5th outfielder type.  To be a dependable second option would have required a strong season and a promotion to Norfolk, but injuries and a downturn in performance kept Mullins in Bowie.

Beyond Mullins, the free agent market could provide some opportunities.  A player like Jarrod Dyson could be an option.  He is a heavy strong side platoon option who is capable of playing all three outfield positions well.  He would be able to take over the lion's share of Hays' innings if Hays struggles as well as giving the club a very strong late inning defensive outfield.  If Hays succeeds, Dyson could be pushed around the outfield to provide rest to Mancini, Jones, and Hays.

A tighter fit would be a player like Curtis Granderson.  Granderson is in the decline phase of his career.  He can capably play left and right field as well as being able to still hit the ball a ton.  However, he is used to holding a starter's share of innings and plate appearances.  It would prove to be harder to find him innings if the entire outfield hits the ground running.

Regardless, the Orioles are in a better looking position now than they were at the beginning of the season with respect to right field in 2018 and beyond.  Hays may well be a solution for a position that has been difficult for the club to solve since Markakis departed.  Perhaps Hays will succeed.  Perhaps Hays can be the club's next Nick Markakis.


Pip said...

Articles like this always seem to ignore defense. I don't want a lumbering semi in the OF but that's what we mostly get in the Dan/Buck years.
How is Hayes' D?
And for that matter, how has Mancini's defense developed?
Listening on the radio, as I usually do, it's impossible to tell how often a player backs off and plays a catchable ball as a single, and errors hardly tell the tale( though Trumbo is so bad it is often clear even on the radio.)

Jon Shepherd said...

I thought I discussed him as a five tool player, noting each tool.

Hayes looks like an average right fielder. Public reports claim a strong arm. I do not see it and specific minor league reports I see do not see that either. Just an average arm. He is fine out there. Centerfield looks like a stretch. If defense was a carrying tool, then center field would be fine.

Mancini? He was below average. Scouts say his athleticism is worse than last year, so that does not bode well. His running speed is on par with Adam Jones, so if his anticipation/acceleration/routes improve then he might be a long term solution there. I do not know anyone who thinks he is a long term solution there.

Pip said...

Thank you. Yes you mentioned that he has speed and a decent arm, but that was all. In our very tiny outfield, it's extremely important to have really good defenders there and over the last few years it seems that the Orioles have Completely given up on defense in favor of offense.
I appreciate the supplement. If Mancini looks like an eventual DH first baseman, can Cedric Mullins handle left? I do not know his current position, and I don't even know if he's far enough along to have settled in anywhere.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think Mullins would be more ideally suited for centerfield. If he does not stick there, then I would figure he is moving into 4th OF territory.

My guess is that Ryan Mountcastle is a more likely solution in LF. Bowie numbers were terrible, but he looked good putting up those terrible numbers. He has enough athleticism to cover left. Mullins would be a better defensive option.

btwrestler119 said...

DJ Stewart is the long term LF option. He'll hit enough and although the early defensive reports were bad, he has improved mightily. Both Clay Davenport's and Baseball Prospectus' milb defensive metrics absolutely love Stewart in LF.

Pip said...

Isn't Mountcastle SS?

btwrestler119 said...

Not sure if that is sarcasm, no one thought Mountcastle was going to stick at SS. They moved him to 3B when he was promoted to AA. He's struggling there as well.

Jon Shepherd said...

It is more likely that Stearth and Mullins will not be viable starters, so I would preach a bit of uncertainty.

Jon Shepherd said...


Unknown said...

On what basis is Stewart not a viable starter?

Unknown said...

His arm sucks...so they move him to 3B
...what about 2B?

Jon Shepherd said...

What is the basis for Stewart not being a viable starter. Well, in a base sense, he showed no carrying tools at AA. If you have a tool alone that is loud enough to be conidered MLB ready right now, that probably bumps you up to maybe only a 33% outcome of being a MLB starter to some degree. Stewart lives below that level.

To dive deeper, Bowie is a pretty decent hitting environment. Stewart put up an offensive line that was about 18% better than league average, which is what you would expect for a starting caliber AA corner outfielder. He does come across as polish, but his approach rapidly devolves to making contact only when facing pitchers with more MLB ready offerings. Outfield defense is good for the level and that should not be a limiting factor for him in left field, but there are concerns about his long term athleticism. By keeping his head above water last year, he rose from a very fringe prospect to a C+/B- kind of guy.

Mountcastle? His arm made SS a stretch and so did his lateral movement. 3B really is the last line before a move to LF or 1B. He does not have the range for 2B or the arm to sit deep like Schoop does to make up for his lack of range.

Unknown said...

Got it. Thanks for the details, Jon.

Pip said...

Was Mountcastle another wasted pick?

Jon Shepherd said...

"Was Mountcastle another wasted pick?"

I honestly do not understand this question.

Pip said...

Well he was drafted to play short, wasn't he? And it's turning out that he hasn't the ability to play there and they are having trouble finding a position for him so I was wondering if their expections for him were to high.
I've never seen him play but everything about him mentions things he cannot do well enough.

Jon Shepherd said...

That is not how you evaluate a prospect. Prospects are not placed in bins and then from there pigeon-holed. He was not even drafted to play shortstop. He was drafted for the potential in his bat and, like all guys who can play shortstop in high school, was left to play short until his bat or his play drifted him down the spectrum.

Local beat media has been flowery of his performance at shortstop, but that is because it is local beat media. Getting information about prospects from someone like Steve Melewski is a recipe to be constantly caught off guard. No one ever expected him to be able to play shortstop. He simply plays there because at minor league level he kind of could and the emphasis was placed on his bat.

I think when we get to things he cannot do well enough, remember he is a fringe top 100 prospect by all publications. He even got on a couple top 100 prospect lists mid-season. The reason why things are negative on him is because he is playing where he is not supposed to be, so the assessment is a downturned assessment. Yes, he is doing really well at the plate, but that really is not his position and he does not walk a lot. Those last two undermine his value as a shortstop, but do not undermine his value as a left fielder or first baseman. That said when you change the context to those positions, you have to note the greater importance those positions play on the bat coming through.

But, no, top 100 prospects who are 4 years young than the competition in their end of season league are generally not considered wasted draft picks.

Pip said...

Thank you very much for your kind and informative reply, I really appreciate it. I will also probably refer to it in the future.

Unknown said...

Hopefully, he won't be Austin singles!