The 2020 Major League Baseball season still has a big question mark attached to it. The MLBPA and the owners are still working to hammer out a deal that both sides will be happy with to bring forth something resembling a baseball season.
Several cities and fan bases are itching to see their team take the field with hopes of competing for a chance at a World Series championship, albeit in a shortened season. In other markets, however, the return to baseball is far less enticing due to the team’s short-term outlook, and such is the case for the Baltimore Orioles.
The only silver lining that came from yet another last-place finish in 2019 was the fact that, unlike the 2018 season, the Orioles somehow managed not to finish with a record-breaking number of losses. The franchise is in the midst of one of the longest and most challenging rebuilds ever seen in the sport, and fans are being asked to stay extremely patient while the powers that be reconstruct the roster and farm system.
Although the Orioles are likely still five or more years away from contending once again, there are still plenty of bright spots to look at that should give the fans some hope for the future. One of those bright spots is the 24-year-old outfielder whom they drafted in the third round of the 2016 amateur draft: Austin Hays.
Hays is currently the number five prospect in the Orioles system, and fans were able to see a glimpse of his potential last September when he was called up to the big leagues. He played in 20 games after being called up and showed off an impressive offensive skill set, slashing .309/.373/.574 with four home runs and six doubles. This was his second appearance at the big-league level, his first coming just one year after he was drafted during the 2017 season.
Hays accelerated through the Orioles’ minor-league system after being drafted in 2016, but injuries and inconsistent performance put a stop to his quick ascension to the majors. However, the 2020 season, when or if it takes place, should be Hays’ best shot at establishing himself as an everyday player in Baltimore. He showed off his skills with the bat, but Hays also has above-average speed and proved to be a solid defender in center field, as he proved when he robbed Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of a home run last season.
Many scouts project Hays as a better fit for right field due to his speed and the fact that he has a plus throwing arm, but either way he should find himself in the starting lineup on opening day.
The Orioles outfield was occupied by the trio of Trey Mancini, Dwight Smith Jr., and Stevie Wilkerson in 2019, but that is likely to change for the 2020 season. Sadly, Mancini, who has rapidly developed into the Orioles’ best young star, revealed back in April that he has been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Mancini’s diagnosis all but guarantees that he will not see the field in 2020 as he begins his cancer treatment. Smith and Wilkerson both underperformed in 2019 and will likely lose playing time to Hays as well as the emerging 26-year-old Anthony Santander.
The Orioles have nothing to lose by playing Hays every day somewhere in their outfield. The 24-year-old was a high draft pick and has been considered a top prospect for years. Now is exactly the time to see what he can provide on an everyday basis, and Hays has the perfect opportunity to provide a glimmer of hope to a fan base that sorely needs it.