KE’BRYAN HAYES, THIRD BASE
|Born: Jan. 28, 1997
Drafted: 1st Round, 32nd Overall, 2015
How Acquired: Draft
High School: Concordia Lutheran (TX) HS
Agent: Ballengee Group
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Ke’Bryan Hayes is the son of former major league, and Pirate, third baseman Charlie Hayes. When drafted, the younger Hayes was an advanced line drive hitter, with some question about his power. Scouts considered him to have average raw power, but in games he took a line drive approach. Hayes got into better shape for his senior year and that helped him move up draft boards; Baseball America ranked him only 57th among draft prospects, but his stock was improving at the time of the draft. He was considered to have good skills at third, but as he advanced through the minors he quickly gained a reputation as an outstanding defender. He has a good, very accurate arm. Oddly, Hayes wasn’t considered to have good speed, as he has a thick lower half, but part way into his minor league career scouts started regarding his speed as above-average. Hayes signed quickly after the draft for exactly the slot amount.
Hayes played as advertised in his debut season, showing advanced skills at the plate, with an excellent eye for the strike zone and a line drive approach that, at this point, doesn’t produce much power. He did fairy well as a base stealer. Defensively, he probably improved his stock with very advanced play for his age. The Pirates promoted him to Morgantown with two weeks left in the regular season, which meant he was also there for the playoffs. Baseball America rated Hayes the ninth best prospect in the GCL, in a year in which the league had the most high-end talent it had seen in years, according to BA.
Hayes opened the season as the third baseman at West Virginia. He got off to an impressive start, batting 343/368/457 in April. He also continued to draw praise for his defense. Hayes started struggling in May, although he did hit four HRs during the month, to start answering the questions about his power. He finished with a .673 OPS in May and .689 in June, and struck out at a higher rate than before, better than once every five ABs compared to less than once every six in April. On the season, he struggled against LHPs, posting an OPS of just .595 against them, compared to .763 against RHPs. After four games in July, Hayes went on the disabled list with an upper back strain. He played in two rehab games in the GCL in August, but then was diagnosed with a cracked rib, which ended his season. It’s not clear at exactly what point Hayes suffered either injury or how long they’d been bothering him by the time he was diagnosed, but it seems likely that the injuries were at least a partial cause of his slump. Baseball America still ranked him as the league’s 14th best prospect.
Hayes lost weight while he was recovering from the cracked rib and wasn’t able to work out, so he came to training camp below the weight he’d have liked. The Pirates sent him to Bradenton for the season anyway and he was one of the youngest players in the league. He had a solid season, with the one negative being the lack of power. To at least some extent, his age, being underweight, and playing in a bad environment for hitters probably contributed to it. He didn’t hit LHPs well, with only a .639 OPS against them, compared to .731 against RHPs. Surprisingly, Hayes finished third in the league in steals, even though he doesn’t have great speed, and he was very efficient at it.
Hayes took a step forward in 2018 while playing the entire season at 21. He got off to a slow start, with just a .555 OPS in April. After that, his OPS was well over .800 every month (if you include two September games with August). His already-good plate discipline improved and he showed good gap power. The power picked up over the course of the season and there’s also reason for optimism in his home/road splits. Altoona plays in a pitchers park that, in particular, hurts right-handed power. (Then again, so does PNC Park.) Hayes batted 275/370/383 with 12 doubles and two home runs at home. On the road he hit 312/381/507 with 19 doubles and five home runs. His defense remained excellent and he committed only six errors. His .978 fielding percentage was 19 points better than the average for major league third basemen, who deal with better infield surfaces and better first basemen. According to Baseball America, scouts described him as a shortstop playing third.
Hayes had a disappointing season. For most of the season, he just held his own at the plate, partly because he struggled with offspeed stuff and often seemed very tentative. His overall numbers were below the league average of 266/342/445. He finally started hitting in August, with a 327/379/452 line. For some reason he had trouble with LHPs, with just a .680 OPS against them. His OPS against RHPs was .768. His outstanding defense and strong baserunning continued. He showed great range at third and committed only three errors. Hayes missed a little time with a minor injury. The Pirates did not call him up in September, but they added him to the 40-man roster after the season.
The Pirates sent Hayes to their training facility once the season started and left him there even after the risk of him becoming eligible for “Super Two” status was past. This was a disquieting indication that the new front office may continue their predecessors’ reluctance to call up prospects, especially considering the team’s horrendous play. Once Hayes came up at the beginning of September, he was by far the team’s best player from the day he arrived. He had a double and a home run in his first game, and continued hammering the ball throughout the month, including the power that was absent in 2019. That may have resulted from an adjustment in his swing. Hayes benefited from a .450 BABIP that obviously isn’t sustainable, but his .306 ISO strongly suggests he’s made some real progress. On defense, he performed as expected, looking like a future Gold Glove contender.
Hayes homered in his first at-bat of the season, then in his second game injured his wrist on a swing. He aggravated it while working to come back, so in the end he missed two months. He went on to have a disappointing season and it seems likely that he never fully regained strength in his wrist. The power mostly disappeared and he rarely pulled the ball, instead just trying to serve it into right field. He aggravated the injury near the end of August and missed a few games, then was shut down about a week before the end of the season. At that point, doctors discovered that he had a cyst between his left index and middle fingers, likely due to repeated injuries in that area. The problems didn’t affect Hayes in the field, where he performed at a premium level, frequently making highlight reel plays and committing only three errors in 95 games.
On opening day, the Pirates signed Hayes to an eight-year extension worth $70M, with a club option for 2030. The contract was the largest ever given out by the team; it surpassed Jason Kendall’s $60M deal signed way, way back in 2000, which is an obvious indicator of the unwillingness of ownership to invest in the team over the years. Hayes’ defensive play was everything the Pirates could have wanted. By Statcast’s Outs Above Average measure, he was the highest-rated third baseman and fourth highest-rated player at any position in MLB. That garnered him a Gold Glove nomination, but the voters gave the award to Nolan Arenado based on name recognition. Hayes’ hitting was another matter. He started the season well, but his final four months were very bad. His OPS by month:
April – .840
Hayes ranked very high in exit velocity and hard hit percentage, but he hit the ball on the ground too much and rarely pulled it in the air. One possible factor was a back injury that, after the season, Hayes said had been bothering him all year. It led to him being out for several short stretches, although he only went on the injured list once. He had a big platoon split, putting up a .758 OPS against LHPs and .616 against RHPs. Even with the offensive struggles, though, Hayes’ defense and baserunning had so much value that he led the team in fWAR with 3.0.
It’s hard not to think Hayes is capable of producing a great deal more on offense. The hopeful scenario is that he’s been hampered by injuries the last two years. Even then, he’s been a good player.
|2030: $12,000,000 (club option with $6,000,000 buyout)
|Signing Bonus: $1,855,000
MiLB Debut: 2015
MLB Debut: 9/1/2020
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2025
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/2019
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2020)
MLB Service Time: 2.075
|June 8, 2015: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1st round, 32nd overall pick; signed on June 16.
November 20, 2019: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.