Fangraphs Ranks Third Baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes As 56th Top Prospect

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) /

Ke’Bryan Hayes has been mentioned towards the backend of top 10 lists among third base prospects without being on a top 100 list.  The former first round pick saw himself land near the top 50 on Fangraphs top 100 prospect list.

Fangraphs released their top 100 prospect rankings a couple of days ago along with Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball America and MLB Pipeline released theirs in the weeks prior.  Assigning point values to each rank, 100 as the number 1 prospect and 1 as the 100th ranked prospect, we can average them out to find a composite prospect ranking:

A couple of notes, Baseball Prospectus does not consider Shohei Ohtani a prospect, and they also rank 101 prospects instead of 100.  Mike Matuella, who ranks as number 101 on their list was assigned 0 points, but he is still ranked on one list.  For players not ranked on an outlet – outside of Ohtani – they received 0 points.

This leaves Pirates prospects ranked as: Mitch Keller (17), Austin Meadows (38), Colin Moran (93), Ke’Bryan Hayes (97), Shane Baz (103), and Cole Tucker (117).  Moran (53), Hayes (56), and Tucker (74) are only ranked by Fangraphs, which given how high they rank is a surprise.  Moran did adjust his swing and added more loft, and Cole Tucker hit .275/.358/.408 with 47 stolen bases as a 21-year-old in High A and Double A.  Moran being ranked as high as he is is a surprise, but Tucker being a backend top 100 prospect isn’t that big of a shock.  It’s Hayes ranking that comes as a rather large surprise.

MLB Pipeline did have Hayes as an honorable mention at third base, and he also made Baseball America’s ranking at third base, and was mentioned to be just on the outside of their top 100On Baseball Prospectus, Hayes ranks as the Pirates fifth best prospect in a system that is not as strong as it once was.  Buying Hayes as a back top 100 prospect is one thing, but as a top 60 prospect is rather odd given his strengths and weaknesses.

Hayes biggest strength is his defense.  Baseball Prospectus writes, “He’s an athletic third baseman with good feet and hands and an accurate, above-average arm.”  Fangraphs calls him “a potential plus-plus defender at third base”, and Baseball America ranks him as the Pirates best defensive infielder.  Fangraphs, written by prospect writers Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel (who has worked in front offices in the past), gives Hayes a current grade of 55 and a future value of 60 (20-80 scale) on the fielding tool, and a 60 on both current and future on the arm tool.  Being a plus defender is always great, but being a top 60 prospect with the calling card being a plus defender at third base is vastly different from if he was a shortstop or centerfield.

But this is where things get strange, especially when it comes to prospect rankings.  Hayes spent all year as a 20-year-old in High A Bradenton, and he’ll likely be a 22-year-old in Double-A Altoona in 2018, putting him on track to reach the majors at age 24.  None of this is out of whack, but the numbers he has produced don’t necessarily match expectations.

More from Rum Bunter

Last year, 832 players had a plate appearance in one of the three High-A leagues – California, Carolina, and Florida State – and Hayes ranked 17th in stolen bases, and he ranked 13th among the 138 qualified batters with 27 in 108 games.  Hayes ranked second among third baseman, only behind Mylz Jones.  Among third baseman in all minor league levels, Hayes ranked fifth among the 211 players with at least a plate appearance.  Dating back to 2010, Hayes has the fifth most stolen bases in a season among third baseman in all High A leagues.  His most notable offensive tool is his speed, which Fangraphs gave a 55 current grade and a 50 future grade.

With the bat, Hayes is a contact hitter, hitting .278/.345/.363 in 482 plate appearances last year.  He walked 8.5 percent of the time and whiffed just 15.8 percent of his plate appearances.  He is given a 40 current and 55 future by Fangraphs, no surprise there.  Outside of his speed factor, nothing out of the ordinary for a prospect, until you look at his power numbers.

Hayes stands at 6’1″ and 210 pounds, so there’s not really much room for growth, though working his way back from some injuries last year might allow him to add some muscle for this upcoming season.  Still, there is not too much room for him to add muscle and have the typical power hitter size.  So instead, perhaps he can leverage his swing and give him more of a power profile.  That hasn’t been the case in the past, especially last season.  Of the 379 players with a plate appearance in the Florida State League, a league which is known for suppressing power, the average slugging was .360, so Hayes was essentially average.  The problem is Hayes isolated power, which measures raw power, was just 0.086 compared to the league average of .110.  He also only hit two home runs and 16 doubles as a third base prospect.

Part of the lower power numbers on Hayes part comes from him hitting too many groundballs, as 46.3 percent of his batted balls were on the ground and he had a 1.39 groundball to flyball ratio.  For comparison, Will Craig, who also has yet to show power in the minors, hit the ball on the ground on 45.8 percent of his batted balls.  There’s not much video on Hayes from recent, but his high school prospect video shows his hands being back and not being in a smooth motion with the rest of his swing.  On an early 2016 home run, Hayes still twirls his hands around and noticeably brings them back and up to go forward on his swing.  He timed it perfectly and hit it for a home run, but the swing isn’t really smooth.

Compare that to another third baseman in Alex Bregman, who stands at 6’0″ and 180 pounds.  Bregman just finished 2017 with 19 home runs and a .191 ISO (non pitcher league average was .175 and league average at third was .182) in part because of how he changed his approach from his time at LSU to now.  Bregman told Dave Laurila of Fangraphs in early October,

"“My bat path has changed a little bit.  I used to be a little more ‘cutty.’ I was trying to stay more through the inside part of the ball, so my swing kind of cut in and out of the zone. Now I try to stay in the zone for a longer time. I also used to push my hands back, whereas now I try to take the barrel kind of around my head a little bit.“It’s also about trying to get a good pitch to drive. That’s huge. You have to get a pitch that you can hit in the air, and not swing at balls you’e probably going to hit on the ground. You want to take pitches until you get to the one you want.”"

In his grand slam against the New York Yankees back in May, you can see Bregman has a nice quiet and quick swing.  His hands are calm, especially compared to those of Hayes in both videos, and that could be a nice model for Hayes going forward.  If he does get more smooth with his swing by quieting the hands during the swing – having a timing mechanism during the pitchers motion is different – could allow him to create a better swing path and get the barrel around his head like Bregman.  As of now, he sits at just 50 current and future raw power grade, and a 30 current and 45 future grade on game power.

Next: Pirates sign Daniel Nava

The game power tool grade is what makes Hayes prospect ranking really strange.  A third base prospect whose most notable tool is his defense and speed, and one who has yet to show even average power, really seems odd to be ranked so high.

Fangraphs doesn’t project more than average power, though calming everything down to allow a quicker bat path to allow more lift could help.  Hayes seems more floor than ceiling, but if he adds power maybe he can be more.  That’s the type of player who can help teams and might be a backend top 100 prospect.  If Hayes does add power to his game, given his speed and defense, a top 50 prospect and higher ceiling type player seems reasonable.  Until then, the ranking by Fangraphs seems really weird for the player profile.

***Note: Keith Law ranked Hayes as his 61 best prospect***

*Numbers from Fangraphs