Everybody wants to see the kid play. If the future is all we have to root for, it makes total sense to want to see a glimpse now. I get it. I also get the Pirates manipulating service time, right or wrong it’s how business is done under this CBA. The universe doesn’t seem to share the fan’s zeal for seeing Hayes get his shot just right now.
Fans just want to see the future a bit, makes sense.
In Spring, the real one, not the bastardized second, Hayes was looking like exactly what you’d like to see from any top prospect. Stroking line drives, flashing leather, looking patient at the plate and in general making his case. Now, let’s not leave it there, first of all he didn’t get the full Spring and that matters because he never got to prove this was going to stick against MLB pitching and the whole thing got shut down while Hayes was in the middle of a swing change he just started with Rick Eckstein.
When the restart happened eventually, Hayes tested positive for COVID-19. Let’s be honest, he wasn’t going to start the season with the Pirates almost no matter what because of that nasty service time and Super-2 stuff but that positive took the outside chance completely off the table.
On top of that, Phil Evans did a little more than keep a seat warm didn’t he? Before his injury he led the club in batting average and was playing all over the field. Proving himself useful if not actually kinda exciting. Colin Moran jumped out to a hot start with the bat, he’s cooled since a bit but 6 homeruns in the first 21 games is a better pace than we’ve ever seen from Moran. He has spent the majority of his time bouncing between 3B, 1B and DH to get his at bats and that’s worked out nicely for him, proving himself pretty capable at first in particular.
Then came Erik Gonzalez. What more can you say really? He’s slick with the glove, he’s tearing the cover off the ball and he isn’t going to be a free agent for a while.
I’m not blind, Evans has done little more than to ensure someone if not the Pirates will give him a real shot next year. Moran has proven that he has found a way to unlock at least a little more of that power and what he’s starting to put on tape makes first base a viable spot for a club that already has a locked in DH. He helps here or in a trade. Gonzalez is 29 but still has control. He too is a trade option, but man is it hard to ignore that exit velocity.
So, is Hayes still the future? Probably. The Pirates are one trade away from giving him a shot in my mind but make no mistake this isn’t Kris Bryant being held back. You can talk about the defense all you like, and it’s fabulous let’s just get that out of the way, but you still need power at the corners. He can develop that a bit but it’s simply not something he’s shown much of. Certainly not like Moran, but the argument for calling him up has always primarily been in an effort to get Moran off the field, that’s already been largely accomplished. Is he an upgrade for Gonzalez defensively at third? If so, it’s not by much. It’s hard to call up a touted rookie then have him ultimately show himself, at least as we speak, less capable than a 29-year-old who was all but given up on.
Maybe you think Gonzalez should move to short, bumping Newman to second. Lord knows that was the prevailing thought when Cole Tucker was flavor du jour for taking over at short. Maybe that’s the Pirates plan too. If they can’t find a way to play Hayes and showcase players they may want to move, Hayes will in all likelihood stay put. If no trades happen and he doesn’t play in 2020, I don’t believe they think less of him, they just didn’t make room for him. The elephant in the room with Hayes is really simple, we have no idea how he looks, what he’s doing, if he’s healthy.
So, am I saying leave him where he is? No, but I am saying I’m in no hurry. At this point it would be little more than a September call up, we won’t ‘see what we got’ and will enter next season asking ourselves many of the same questions whether he comes up or not. Can he hit for power, and can he keep the strikeouts down?
Nothing is right this year, Hayes would be building his resume in AAA right now, laying real evidence that the swing change took, and he is a matchup problem for more pitchers than not at that level. We don’t have that. In fact, we don’t have anything about what he’s doing do we? We don’t know if he’s just been playing in the batting cage or running laps. As Craig just pointed out the other day, Ben Cherington just acknowledged that they don’t have enough pitchers to get all these guys live at bats regularly.
If you really believe a player is part of the future, setting them up for a rough debut is at best questionable. Again, the trade deadline is about two weeks away, this decision could make itself, but try to avoid panic if somehow when the dust settles, they decide to just push this to next season. It may actually be in his best interest developmentally speaking.
There is someone like this almost every year. Will Craig has been one of these guys for a couple seasons, I question if he’ll ever be given a chance here. I also question if he’s earned one. Being a number one pick isn’t a coronation, it just means the work starts with a little more expectation. I could say this for most top prospects really. Oneil Cruz is another guy that fans have clamored for, but as exciting as he is both on the field and with the bat at times, he has significant holes to work on, holes that don’t get fixed at this level. If you’re looking for immediate help from the prospect ranks, Blake Cederlind probably is your best bet.
At the end of the day, Hayes will come up, when he does, don’t expect Wade Boggs. Expect a kid who will excel in the field and take a couple years to show his spots with the bat. Unless they’re teaching him to pitch, he isn’t a franchise saver. I have no doubt he’ll be part of the solution, but the Pirates have problems he can’t solve alone. Pining for him to get called up is just asking him to sit in a different place.