Ke’Bryan Hayes' Power Comes Into Focus
Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes has emerged as one of the top 50 prospects in baseball, and a big reason for his jump has been the addition of power to his game.
At Double-A Altoona last season, Hayes produced a career high seven home runs and 31 doubles. His isolated slugging percentage rose to .151 a year after it had been .085 at high Class A Bradenton. He credits his uptick in power to his recovery from a cracked rib two years ago.
Hayes suffered a cracked rib at the end of the 2016 season, which led to a lot of weight and muscle loss from the injury and a decrease in power. He was able to hit the weight room the following offseason, regaining some lost muscle, and he attributes the 2018 results to getting stronger again.
"I feel like each and every year I've come in I felt stronger,” said Hayes, 22, at minicamp in January. "(Last) offseason I was able to get in the weight room, get my legs back under me. This year I'm feeling even better, so I can't wait to see what happens this year.”
Hayes also is focused on remaining on his back side more often at the plate, allowing him to adjust to offspeed pitches easier. He said that he didn’t try to create anything with his swing—which already has some natural lift—but that the focus on the back side might have helped that more. The results led to better pull-side power, with all but one homer going to left field.
"It was just getting stronger,” Hayes said. "I definitely think my swing, just learning how to stay on my back side more, and just my bat path naturally, I probably created a little more loft with my swing.”
The Pirates have a long-term need at third base, and Hayes, the club's 2015 first-rounder out of high school in Tomball, Texas, could be ready to help later this season or in 2020.
Hayes is the best defensive third baseman int the system. He hits for average and has good command of the strike zone. If he can maintain or further improve his power production, he will give the Pirates a chance to have an above-average starter at third base in the future.
—Kevin Newman worked at both second base and shortstop during minicamp in January. The Pirates typically keep projected starters at one position and only move guys around when they’re not expected to enter the majors as a starter right away. By comparison, Cole Tucker was at shortstop the entire time at minicamp, and throughout his career. Newman is challenging for the shortstop job in Pittsburgh in 2019, but his time split at second base could indicate that he’ll arrive in a bench role with a chance to work his way into more playing time.
—The Pirates sent righthanders Mitch Keller and Nick Burdi, plus infielders Pablo Reyes and Kevin Kramer to MLB’s Rookie Career Development Program. The program helps young players adjust to life in the majors. Keller is the organization's top prospect and could join the rotation at some point in 2019. Burdi still has Rule 5 eligibility after spending most of last year on the disabled list, and needs to be in the majors on Opening Day. Reyes got a shot in the majors at the end of 2018 and will be competing for a bench role this spring. Kramer is a candidate for the long-term second base job in Pittsburgh, but should start the 2019 season at Triple-A Indianapolis.