Orioles spring standout Austin Hays, seven others cut from major league camp

SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles outfielder Austin Hays, who hit his fifth home run of the spring Saturday to solidify a 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays and has swung one of the hottest bats in camp, was a surprising inclusion on the third wave of roster cuts the Orioles made Sunday.

Hays, 23, had more hits (13) than all but one Oriole this spring and played standout defense in right field and center field, but was sent out for more seasoning in the minors with other plans for the major league outfield.


“We're very excited about how he looked,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said. “His health was a question mark coming into this camp for him and for us. He looks terrific. His tools have returned, and obviously he had a very productive camp. This is exactly what we were looking for.

“In terms of the decision surrounding Austin, look at his body of work. He has not spent much time at the Double-A level. He's spent zero time at the Triple-A level, and he had a bad year last year due to injury. We felt it was important to get him a baseline of production, get his feet under him — literally — and then see what we have and go from there. We'll make the right determination around his career development, rather than reacting to the fact that he's had, statistically, probably the best camp here. Spring training is spring training, and him looking good is more important than him hitting five homers, or hitting .350, or whatever it is. I couldn't be more excited about him, and he understands the reasons why we're doing what we're doing. He knows it's the best thing for him in his long-term career.”


As he was packing his locker, Hays said he was "a little bit" surprised.

Orioles outfielder Austin Hays had to re-learn how to run after offseason ankle surgery, and the resulting strides with that and his offseason fitness program have him in position to earn a major league job this spring.

"I was putting up some good numbers," Hays said. "I was feeling good, feeling healthy. I still haven't played too many games in the minor leagues, I haven't had too many at-bats. I missed almost a whole year due to injuries. There's some time I need to make up. Just keep doing what I'm doing, keep the momentum that I built here in spring training and carry it into the season wherever it is."

Hays came to the majors in September 2017 after a sensational minor league season, hitting 32 home runs and batting .329 between High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie before getting his first taste of the big leagues. But Hays dealt with a shoulder injury in spring training last year, went back to Bowie, and struggled as he dealt with an ankle injury all season.

That trajectory is what the coaching staff explained to him when he was sent out.

"It's just I came up here really, really fast. I missed a lot of time last year, so it's just a matter of getting the reps in, continuing to work, continuing to learn and grow as a player," Hays said. "That way when I do come up and play my next game in Camden Yards, hopefully I'll stick and be here for good."

Hays, who has been primarily a right fielder in his professional career, got far more games in center field this spring. Elias said he “would really love to have him be a fixture in center field for us.”

By virtue of his spring performance, there was plenty of momentum for Hays to make the roster in a crowded outfield situation that includes Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins, Joey Rickard, Dwight Smith Jr., non-roster invitee Eric Young Jr., and utility player Drew Jackson. Anthony Santander was sent out as part of this round of cuts with Hays.

Manager Brandon Hyde said Saturday that Hays' home run was "a continuation of a really good spring.

"He's impressed a lot of people in camp," Hyde said Saturday. "I just like the way he attacks the ball offensively. I think he's got power from pole to pole, and he's exciting to watch. He's got a lot of tools. He can really run, he's a good outfielder, he throws well. He does a lot of things really well, so for him to perform like this this spring has been really great."

Hays, a highly touted prospect, has 34 days of major league service time. Though clubs are increasingly choosing to keep players down in the minor leagues for a few weeks to gain another year of club control, Hays' clock has already started on that front, so he'd need to be held down longer for that purpose if that were the goal. Elias said those considerations had “zero” to do with Sunday’s decision, describing them as “not even relevant.”

That designated hitter Mark Trumbo is progressing well, and the team has three Rule 5 players to keep — Jackson, Richie Martin, and Pedro Araujo — may have created a difficult roster situation to manage.

Additionally, the timing of this round of cuts — which would allow players who are optioned to be recalled by Opening Day in case of injury — means that Hays has at least played his way into being a contingency plan for the Orioles.


He'll be heading to minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park with Santander, right-hander Yefry Ramirez, relievers Cody Carroll and Branden Kline, and infielder Stevie Wilkerson, plus non-roster infielder Christopher Bostick and right-hander Gabriel Ynoa.

Elias described some of their camps as “spectacular,” but said “we’re going to err on the side of what is right for the particular players, rather than experimenting or trying to get them on the roster early and see what happens.

“I would expect that perhaps all eight of these players will play for the Orioles this year,” Elias said. “At least, that's our hope. For me, it's important to prioritize the individual development, especially with players that are going to be centerpieces of our future here.

“They're so close, and knocking on this door, and they exceeded expectations here in big league camp,” Hyde said. “They played great. Now, it's go down there and do what you did when you were here and hopefully, see you soon.”

Santander hit .333 with eight extra-base hits — two home runs and six doubles — this spring and impressed Hyde, but like Hays has dealt with injuries that have kept him from much high-level minor league experience.

Carroll, who came back in the trade for closer Zach Britton last summer, allowed a run in one of his seven spring appearances and struck out nine against one walk. Kline, a Frederick native in his first major league camp, has had an uneven spring but shown three good pitches when he's been at his best.

Ramirez fell behind quickly in the race to make the starting rotation and never caught up, though Ynoa, who hardly pitched in 2019, did make an impression on that front. With Jackson in camp and the recent additions of Alcides Escobar and Hanser Alberto, Wilkerson and Bostick were sent back to minor league camp to thin that group out a bit.

The Orioles have 39 players in camp.

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