BRADENTON, Fl. – The Pirates have given aggressive promotions to their first round high school position players in recent years, sending them all to West Virginia during their first full seasons. This is a big jump for young players, as it not only puts them in a league dominated by college talent, but also puts them in a league that plays nine inning games everyday for five months. The latter is a big schedule change from their high school days, where their season consists of two or three seven inning games a week for about three months.
Ke’Bryan Hayes will be the next prospect to make the aggressive jump to West Virginia in his first full season. As I reported the other day, the Pirates are sending him to the level, where he will be one of the youngest players in the league, due to his maturity, approach in the batter’s box, and defense. Hayes is ready for the level in terms of talent. But he also needed to get ready for the level in terms of conditioning.
During his sophomore year, Hayes didn’t see a future as a professional ball player with his weight at the time. He also didn’t think his conditioning at the time would lead to him sticking on the left side of the infield. So he took up mountain biking, and used that to get in better shape, eventually committing to the idea of wanting to turn pro after high school.
“My mom introduced it to me,” Hayes said of the workout. “She didn’t think I was going to like it at all, but then it’s something that I always did. It’s fun, and it’s a good workout for me.”
The workout got him in much better shape, securing his chances of sticking at third base, and turning him into a first round talent in 2015. The Pirates took him with the 32nd overall pick — the pick they got for losing Russell Martin — and he impressed in his first run through the GCL, with the ability to hit liners to the gap, and outstanding defense at third base. This all led to the 2016 promotion, and to prepare for that, Hayes leaned on his mountain biking workout again.
“I worked out and did my same mountain biking routine,” Hayes said of his preparation. “Got with a trainer to get in better shape, because [of playing in West Virginia].”
The dedication and maturity that Hayes shows towards conditioning at such a young age is impressive. That got him in position to be a first round pick, and will get him in position for a longer 2016 season. But his draft position and his 2016 placement are more about his skills on the field and at the plate.
Defense is what immediately stands out. Hayes makes it look easy at third base, showing first step quickness, good routes to the ball, and good positioning to field and make a quick throw in a nice, fluid motion with his weight transitioning to the target. He’s also got the arm strength needed to stick at the position. Hayes is a former shortstop, which helps his skills in the infield. But his current skills are all about hard work on that side of the game.
“I’ve always put in as much work as I do hitting with ground balls, because defense will keep you on the field,” Hayes said.
The defense is not only good enough to keep him on the field, but it could eventually be good enough to get him to the majors in some form. Right now he’s a gap-to-gap hitter, focusing on line drives with strong plate patience. The Pirates saw a bit more power in his future, and aren’t ruling out more impact from the bat.
“They kind of said that, as I grow up and mature into my body, power and home runs will come,” Hayes said. “Just stick with my plan at the plate right now, and we’ll work on it.”
Hayes might not need the power though. With his defense, a gap-to-gap, high average, high OBP approach would be enough to be a starter in the majors. At this point it’s hard to place an exact upside on him, since he is so far off from the majors, and still has things to work on to make sure his offensive approach will work in the upper levels. Right now, the Pirates aren’t suggesting any changes, and want to see what he can do in West Virginia. With his work ethic, it would be easy to picture success in the future, not just in 2016, but with his future development and chances of being a starter for Pittsburgh one day.