When trying to project a potential Pittsburgh Pirates Rookie of the Year for a potential 2020 season, one player seems to rise above the rest.
If there is a 2020 MLB season the Pittsburgh Pirates, like every other MLB team, will have their own team rookie of the year. Today, we will take a look at the player who is the most likely 2020 Pirates Rookie of the Year.
Before we start, it is important to note that Mitch Keller is not a candidate here. While, yes, technically he still has rookie status with the Pittsburgh Pirates, for this article we are only going to consider players who have zero or limited MLB experience. While Keller’s MLB experience is a small sample size, 11 starts is not exactly a player that is unknown to the league, either.
With that said, the player who is most likely to be the Pittsburgh Pirates best rookie in 2020 is Ke’Bryan Hayes. Not only is Hayes the team’s top position player prospect, he is arguably the best third base prospect in baseball.
Many of you already know the story of Hayes. He is a multiple time Minor League Gold Glove Award winner at third base. His defense at the hot corner is excellent, and he would already be one of the finest defensive third basemen in all of MLB. His offense, however, remains a work in progress. This offense is why he is projected to start the 2020 season at the Triple-A level. Although, with a shortened schedule that could potentially change.
Offensively, the biggest issue for Hayes in 2019 was that he hit the ball on the ground too often. Hayes possessed a 92.0 MPH exit velocity with Triple-A Indianapolis in 2019 which was well above average. However, his 46.4% ground ball rate was a 6.1% increase over his ground ball rate from 2018. No matter how hard a player hits the ball, if the ball is hit on the ground it is more likely to become an out.
During the off-season Hayes worked on hitting less ground balls. While one must always take spring training results, especially the Grapefruit League due to the Florida conditions, with a grain of salt, this work by Hayes appeared to be paying off prior to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down spring training.
In 13 Grapefruit League games this spring, Hayes slashed .280/.400/.440 in 25 at bats. He hit a home run, a double, drew four walks, and had at least two other home runs taken away by the always unpredictable Florida winds.
Again, it was spring training and a super small sample size, but this spring it appeared the off-season work of Hayes was paying off.
It is clear that new Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington and his front office believe in Hayes. During spring training, it was reported that the Pirates were discussing potential long term contracts with certain young players in their system. It was later reported that Hayes was one of these players.
If the team was looking to reach a long term contract with Hayes before he had even reached the Major League level, that is a sign of them believing in him as a player. Also, since an extension would have led to Hayes starting the 2020 season at the MLB level, it signals that they believe he is close to being MLB ready.
In addition to being an elite defender, Hayes also possesses terrific on base skills. In his professional career, Hayes owns a healthy 10.7% walk rate. He is also a plus athlete, who could sneakily swipe 15-20 bags a year for the Bucs. This also helps make Hayes a plus base runner. If his power develops, there will be few third basemen in baseball that are better all-around players than Hayes.
To be honest, if Hayes spends enough time at the MLB level, it would not be a stunner to see him capture the National League Rookie of the Year Award. If nothing else, Hayes finishing among the top vote getters would not be a surprise at all.
Even though Hayes will likely start the 2020 season at Triple-A, he is the Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman of the future. That future will arrive at some point during the 2020 season. After it arrives, look for Hayes to go on to be the 2020 Pirates Rookie of the Year.