It’s a rare circumstance for a rookie to look like the best player on his team.
That’s exactly what happened in September after third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes joined the Pirates.
The 23-year-old Hayes was so dominant in 24 games that he led all Pirates hitters in average (.376), on-base percentage (.442), and slugging (.682) for the season, garnering National League Rookie of the Year talk in the process.
Hayes hit five home runs, seven doubles and two triples, while drawing nine walks against 20 strikeouts.
Drafted 32nd overall in 2015 out of high school in Tomball, Texas, Hayes found offensive success after making adjustments at the plate this season. His stance went from closed to open, allowing him to stay on his back leg longer. He moved his hand position down and away from his shoulder, while also having a more upright position.
The combination led to the best offensive results Hayes has displayed as a professional.
“(Hayes) is a really intuitive player,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said. “He knows he makes a lot of contact and hits the ball hard. He also knew coming into spring training that getting the ball off the ground more likely helps him.”
Hayes is the son of former big league third baseman Charlie Hayes, who played for the Pirates in 1996. After his spring adjustment, the junior Hayes went to work back at home with his father and started seeing results.
“He’s made an adjustment in mindset and he talked about the benefit of being able to hit on a full field with his dad during quarantine, and the value of seeing the flight of the ball,” Cherington said.
The Pirates finished with the worst record in the big leagues, but Hayes gives them a bright spot to build around. He’s one of the best defensive third basemen in the game, and if his offense comes anywhere close to numbers he showed in 2020, he could be a perennial all-star and building block.
— Rookie righthander Mitch Keller had a strong finish to the 2020 season, throwing 11 combined no-hit innings over his final two starts. Keller had control problems in his final outing, with eight walks in five innings. The former No. 1 prospect in the system will be a building block for the future Pirates’ rotation, joining Hayes as a young player who can help push the club back to contention.
— The Pirates signed 19-year-old Taiwanese righthander Po-Yu Chen to a $1.25 million bonus. He throws 88-94 mph, mixing in a curveball, slider and a changeup. Chen comes from an athletic family. His dad played pro ball in Taiwan and his mom was a basketball player.