(Photo courtesy of MILB.com)
BALTIMORE — The Orioles have promoted their fastest-rising prospect to the major leagues as outfielder Austin Hays was called up from Double-A Bowie on Tuesday.
A third-round pick out of Jacksonville University in 2016, Hays was preparing to play in the Eastern League playoffs for the Baysox before receiving the call from Baltimore. The 22-year-old hit .328 with 16 home runs, 15 doubles, 41 RBIs, and a .956 on-base plus slugging percentage in 64 games for Single-A Frederick earlier this season before being promoted to the Double-A level in June. Hays impressively didn’t miss a beat playing against tougher competition, batting .330 with 16 homers, 17 doubles, 54 RBIs, and a .960 OPS in 64 games for the Baysox.
Ranked 99th on Baseball America’s mid-season top 100 list released in early July, Hays has seen his stock rise dramatically and has started receiving national attention in his first full season of professional baseball. The right-handed hitter and thrower was ranked as Baltimore’s No. 2 prospect behind catcher Chance Sisco in the same publication’s top 10 list for the organization released in late July
Hays was also named one of five finalists to be Baseball America’s minor league player of the year on Tuesday.
It remains unclear what role Hays might fill this month, but it would be surprising to see him removed from a minor-league playoff experience if the Orioles intended to mostly sit him on the bench. Hays has played in both center field and right this season, making it possible that he could see action in right field against left-handed pitching.
Joey Rickard has served as the primary right fielder against lefties, but he is hitting just .223 with a .560 OPS since the All-Star break. His .283 average against southpaws is respectable, but his .706 OPS against lefties reflects his lack of power.
To make room for Hays on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino for assignment. Considered a candidate for the major league starting rotation this spring, Aquino has pitched to a 4.24 ERA in 21 starts for the Tides this year and has made only two starts and four appearances for Baltimore, posting a 7.43 ERA.