Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Projecting Ke’Bryan Hayes Floor and Ceiling

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Pittsburgh Pirates third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes is one of the best infield prospects in the game. So, what should you expect from the top prospect in the future?

Ke’Bryan Hayes is a consensus top 100 prospect and the Pittsburgh Pirates number two prospect in their organization. The third baseman is considered the future of third base for the Pirates, and for a good reason. Today, let’s go over what you could expect from Hayes in the future when he does eventually receive the call to the show, and starts to get regular playing time.

Hayes was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1st round of the 2015 draft. His career got off to a fairly slow start. Hayes really broke out in 2017 when he batted .278/.345/.363 in 482 plate appearances. He posted a 109 wRC+ and 124 DRC+ at the High-A level that season. He also swiped 27 bags, and established himself as one of the best with the glove at any level of the minors.

Hayes would build off his 2017 season with an outstanding 2018. Keeping his amazing defense at the hot corner, Hayes batted .293/.375/.444. Although he only hit seven long balls, Hayes racked up 31 doubles and seven triples. Hayes’ 129 wRC+ and .369 wOBA ranked third among all third basemen at Double-A. He also posted a career high 0.68 walk/strikeout ratio, and improved his plate discipline from previous seasons.

Going into 2019, Hayes was now ranked as a top 100 prospect. However, the season did not go as planned for the now 22-year-old. At Triple-A, Hayes batted just .265/.336/.415 across 480 plate appearances. Hayes missed about a week and a half during the season because of a fractured left index finger. When Hayes returned, he rebounded to some degree. Although he didn’t reach his 2018 numbers, he still hit for a much better .290/.337/.435 line in the second half of the year.

Hayes’ best tools are his glove and arm. FanGraphs gives his glove a 60 grade with a future of 70, and his arm a 60 grade as well. According to MLB Pipeline, he is the only third base prospect to have 60+ grades for both fielding and arm rating.

How his bat will develop will remain to be seen. But one thing seems to be for sure, he is not going to be a big power hitter, which is something that is looked for in corner infielders. Hayes just isn’t that guy. He has never had more than 10 home runs in a season, and his highest slugging percentage was in 2018 at .444.

However, he does seem to rack up many doubles. Despite his shortened time at Triple-A last year, he nearly matched his double total from 2018 with Altoona. But what he lacks in power, Hayes makes up in his speed and base running ability. Hayes still stole 13 bags in 2019, and was worth 2.5 weighed stolen bases and caught stealing runs above average. Both MLB Pipeline (55) and FanGraphs (60, future 55) give Hayes good grades for his speed.

Going forward, Hayes will still be a contributor with the bat. In terms of a comparable Major League player, I think you’re going to see a 2015-2017 D.J. LeMahieu. LeMahieu hit for a solid .319/.383/.430 line across 1,937 plate appearances. LeMahieu only hit 25 home runs in those three seasons, but averaged between 25 and 30 doubles a season, and 12-15 stolen bases a year.

Overall, his output placed him at 104 OPS+, but remember this OPS+ was adjusted for Coors Field. If Hayes posted the same or similar slash line, he would probably have a higher OPS+. In 2018, Ben Zobrist had a very similar slash (305/.387/.440), yet finished with a 117 OPS+. LeMahieu also walked at a solid 9.03% clip, which is just a few ticks lower than Hayes’ minor league walk rate (9.44%). Plus, like Hayes, LeMahieu was considered a top-tier defensive infielder in these three seasons. Overall, the former Colorado Rockies’ second baseman averaged nearly 4 bWAR a year in these three seasons.

However, I think the worst for Hayes looks a lot like his second half of 2019. At the worst, Hayes could be another Jean Segura like infielder, but with a better glove. In the past three seasons, Segura has batted .294/.337/.421 across 1,816 plate appearances. He has posted an un-Coors affected 104 OPS+. He has been overall, average in the past three seasons. However, he has averaged about 17-20 stolen bases a year, and 2.5 bWAR. If this is the floor for Hayes, it’s still solid, albeit not very good production from a third baseman.

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But if Hayes’ is never a great batter, his fantastic fielding will always help him get by even if he posts Segura like numbers. As long as Hayes plays regularly for most of a season, he’ll be in Gold Glove contention. The last third baseman to have these good of fielding ratings was Oakland A’s top notch defender Matt Chapman. Despite only playing two and a half seasons in the majors, Chapman already ranks 6th all-time among third basemen defensive runs saved leaders, and nearly has 10 defensive WAR.

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