ALTOONA, Pa. – Those within the Pirates minor league system knew how good Ke’Bryan Hayes was defensively at third base. Now, he has officially been recognized by all of Minor League Baseball as the best third baseman in the minors during the 2017 season.
Ke’Bryan Hayes received his 2017 Rawlings Gold Glove Award® on Thursday night before the Altoona Curve took on the Erie Seawolves. Presented by Andy Shultz, MiLB Assistant Director of Baseball & Business Operations, Hayes was ecstatic to be named the best defensive third baseman in all of full season minor league baseball.
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“There’s a lot of guys playing, and I was the one who got it for third base,” Hayes said after the game. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Shultz told me that they take a lot into account in choosing which players receive the prestigious award, but they mostly go straight from the book. During the 2017 season, Hayes only committed eight errors on 245 attempts for a .974 fielding percentage. He led the Florida State League in total chances (307), assists (245), and double plays (25).
“I work on my defense in the offseason just as much as I do my offense, because you’re not going to be able to hit everyday,” Hayes said. “But, you can take hits away from everybody else.”
Curve manager Michael Ryan said that he thinks Hayes can eventually win a Gold Glove in the big leagues.
“He’s made some unbelievable plays that people don’t realize because he makes them look so easy,” Ryan said. “If he gets caught between hops, his hands are so good to make the play. He’s one of the better defensive third basemen I’ve seen.”
Ryan gave an example of a play that Hayes made on Friday night in Altoona, where there were runners on the corners, no outs, and Hayes got to a shot hit to him on the ground. He quickly was able to look the runner back to third base then turn a double play.
“The baseball awareness and how he reads situations, it’s unbelievable,” Ryan said. “He works at his craft everyday and takes pride in what he does. He enjoys and wants to play defense.”
The last player that Shultz presented the MiLB Rawlings Gold Glove Award® to was Scott Kingery, who spent last season between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. While presenting the award, Shultz joked with Hayes that Kingery went 0-for-4 that night for the Phillies. Fortunately for Hayes, he ripped a line drive up the middle in his following at-bat to avoid the same misfortune.
Hayes laughed and replied, “Why’d you tell me that?”
Hayes finished the game on Thursday night by going 2-for-4 at the plate. It was his seventh multi-hit game of the season for Altoona. Altogether, he’s only hitting .241 with a .595 OPS. He only has five extra base hits with no home runs so far this year.
The difference between High-A and Double-A pitching has forced Hayes to begin making a few adjustments at the plate. More specifically, he is focusing on specific quadrants of the plate to drive pitches within that zone. The approach is slowly helping him improve.
“Having better selection with pitching,” Hayes answered when asked how he can improve. “The main difference with me in High-A and Double-A is guys being able to move the ball more with the fastball. Picking a zone and sticking with my approach is what I am doing this year.”
Although Hayes hasn’t had the strongest start to his 2018 campaign offensively, Michael Ryan still has extreme confidence in the youngest member of his club. The biggest thing that Ryan said Hayes is doing well is recognizing breaking balls, something that he has struggled with in the past.
“I think he is in a good spot,” Ryan said. “He’s taking some really good swings on breaking balls. It’s a good feeling for everyone in the dugout every time he goes up to the plate. We like where he is at. He had a 3-0 pitch (on Friday night) that he hit into a double play, but he just got beat a little bit. If we didn’t like where he was, he wouldn’t have gotten the green light to go there. It’s still early in the season, and he’ll continue to be in the lineup everyday.”
Ryan has been impressed with Hayes’ approach, even though there has been some offensive struggles.
“When you look at zones, it helps with off-speed recognition,” Ryan said. “When you are looking at a particular zone, you’re going to swing at the pitch that’s in your zone, whether it’s a fastball or something off-speed. Once he realized the difference, that will allow him to do more damage. He’s taking better passes at breaking balls.”
Ultimately, Hayes said that he feels good physically and feels as though he is continuing to improve. Even during times where he is struggling, he has his father and brother only a phone call away to give him guidance.
“It’s been awesome having my dad and my brother that played,” Hayes said. Since I was ten or 11 years old, being able to watch my brother go through the minor leagues. I even got to go practice with him, so I knew what it would be like. Just to have them when I’m either up or down, having their guidance every day. I talk to them as much as I can, because not many people have that outlet, so I take advantage of it.”
Hayes will remain the starting third baseman for the Curve all season, honing his skills both offensively and defensively. As the temperatures rise in the summer months, he hopes his approach at the plate will begin to pay dividends.