Many left 2020 asking that question about Ke’Bryan Hayes’ incendiary September performance. The 23-year-old Pirates third baseman hit .376 with five home runs in 24 games during his big league debut. His 1.124 OPS ranked fourth among qualifiers in September, and he showed the array of secondary skills necessary to believe his breakout was no fluke.
No, Hayes won’t maintain a .450 batting average on balls in play, but the rookie hit the ball hard with frequency, took his walks, turned in a 79th percentile sprint speed and delivered on projected Gold Glove-caliber defense at the hot corner.
The incredulity surrounding Hayes stemmed more from his minor league track record—consistently good but never great—than his debut. At Triple-A Indianapolis in 2019, both Hayes’ .336 on-base percentage and .415 slugging ranked below the International League averages.
But scouts remained high on Hayes, whose athleticism, quick swing, patience and defensive prowess stood out, even when his raw offensive output did not. Similar things could have been said about Francisco Lindor heading into 2015 and Hanley Ramirez heading into 2006. But when called up, both shortstops quickly became impact big leaguers.
All three are reminders that for some prospects it’s important to trust the tools. To trust the athlete. To trust that scouts’ projections will come to pass even if those projections run contrary to mounting minor league performance data. These guidelines are particularly true for athletes, especially those who play up the middle, because athletes are more adept at making adjustments, catching up with the speed of the major league game and holding those gains as they mature and eventually decline.
While baseball lost the 2020 minor league season to the pandemic, dynasty players should keep faith in these nine position prospects.
BOBBY WITT JR., SS, ROYALS
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