What to expect from O's Hays in big leagues

What to expect from O's Hays in big leagues

Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman and Andrew Benintendi comprise a very short list of recent hitting prospects to reach the Major Leagues in their first full professional seasons.

That list grew deeper Tuesday, as the Orioles announced they were purchasing the contract of outfielder and No. 2 prospect Austin Hays from Double-A Bowie. He joined the team at Camden Yards before the second of Baltimore's three-game set against the Yankees.

Ranked No. 97 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, Hays gets the call after a breakout season in the Minors that saw him post a .329/.365/.593 slash line between Bowie and Class A Advanced Frederick. In 128 games between the two levels, the 22-year-old produced 69 extra-base hits, including 32 home runs, second most in the Minors, and 95 RBIs while scoring 81 runs.

Hays has been a model of consistency this season, posting strikingly similar numbers at the plate while playing in exactly 64 games at each level. He began the season by slashing .328/.364/.592 with 16 home runs in the Florida State League, and then built on that performance with a .330/.367/.594 clip and 16 more homers at Bowie.

The Orioles selected Hays in the third round of the 2016 Draft after he had erupted to hit an Atlantic Sun Conference-best 16 home runs as a junior at Jacksonville. That success followed Hays into his professional debut, as he quickly opened eyes by hitting .329/.365/.593 with a team-leading four home runs over 38 games with Class A Short Season Aberdeen in the New York-Penn League.

Hays has shown few weaknesses at the plate early in his career despite being challenged by the Orioles with several aggressive assignments.

A 6-foot-1, 195-pound right-handed hitter, Hays generates consistent hard contact with his above-average bat speed and a short but highly impactful swing that, from a mechanical standpoint, features very little wasted movement or energy. It enables Hays to turn around premium velocity while still retaining the needed strength to drive secondary pitches with authority.

Hays also does a good job recognizing pitches, controls his zone well and misses very few mistakes, all while showing a feel for using the entire field despite an approach that borders on being pull-oriented.

What's more, Hays has been successful against left-handed (.411/.455/.715) and right-handed pitching (.296/.329/.544) alike this season, and both his strikeout and walk rates went virtually unchanged with the midseason move up to Double-A.

All of those factors led scouts to peg the Florida native as a future above-average hitter in the big leagues capable of hitting 20-plus homers.

Defensively, Hays has the requisite above-average speed, instincts and range needed for center field as well as the plus arm strength for right -- a position he had played increasingly in recent weeks with Bowie.

While it's yet to be seen how much playing time Hays receives in September, the Orioles, who began Tuesday 1 1/2 games back in the American League Wild Card race, clearly believe that their roster is better off with his potent bat and defensive versatility.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.