The 2023 fantasy baseball draft season is wrapping up and there are only a couple of days left to draft your MLB lineups. There is no better way to get ready than with the FREE Fantasy Alarm Fantasy Baseball Draft guide where you can dive into fantasy baseball player rankings and MLB Projections to set up your draft plan. Tuesday will be Third Base Day and this week we continue the Positional Spotlight series, where we will have individual player profiles, rookie breakdowns and more.  One of the hottest players of the spring is second-generation major leaguer Ke’Bryan Hayes of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  This is a player that has had to deal with great expectations over the last few years and after a strong spring training may now be ready to take that next step into the next tier of top fantasy third basemen. 


Every week I try to give a little background on our Spotlight player and Ke’Bryan Hayes is an interesting study. Hayes hit .436 (41-for-94) with 16 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 27 RBI and 12 stolen bases as a senior in 2015 at Concordia Lutheran (TX) High School where he helped lead them to the 2015 TAPPS state championship.  In 2014, he played for the Team USA Junior National team and the 2014 USA Baseball Tournament of Stars, where he hit .486 (17-for-35) with two doubles, a home run and seven RBI in 12 games for the Tournament of Stars. Hayes is the son of former Pirate and long-time Major Leaguer Charlie Hayes who is most known for catching Mark Lemke’s pop-up in foul territory to end the 1996 World Series and give the Yankees their first title since 1978. The younger Hayes planned to play college at Tennessee but was eventually signed by the Pirates as the club's supplemental first-round selection (32nd overall) in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft. By 2019 he had emerged as one of the top 50 prospects in baseball, and a big reason for his jump had been the addition of power to his game. In February 2019, Tim Williams of Baseball America states the following:

“He (Hayes) is the best defensive third baseman in the system. He hits for average and has a 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.”

The future finally arrived on a Tuesday night in early September of 2020 when the number two prospect in the Pirates system, the third-best third base prospect in baseball, and the number 44 overall prospect, according to was recalled from the AAA West Virginia Black Bears. The Pirates immediately inserted him into their starting lineup and watched him shine in every aspect of the game during their 8-7 loss to the Cubs in 11 innings at PNC Park. The 23-year-old went 2-for-5 with three runs scored, a game-tying homer and some unbelievable plays at third base. Hayes became the fourth Pirates player since 1901, and the first since Walter Mueller in 1922, to record two extra-base hits in his Major League debut. He was also the eighth player in the Majors since 1901 to debut with at least three runs scored and two extra-base hits; the last National League player to have a debut like his was Willie McCovey in 1959. 

Hayes ended the 2020 season up batting .376 with a .442 on-base percentage, a .201 OPS+ and five home runs in just 24 games and received five votes in the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year. He started 2021 with a bang, hitting a home run in his first at-bat of the season and on June 11th he became the quickest Pirate to 20 career extra-base hits. After playing 96 games overall in 2021 the Pirates announced to the baseball world that he was their future and signed Hayes for eight years and $70 million, which represented the largest contract ever handed out by the Pirates and a record for a player between one and two years of service time. 

Now herein lies the issue with Hayes as he rolls into the 2023 season. After hitting five homers in 24 games in that magical September 2020, he is still seeking the 20th homer and 100th RBI of his career after 256 games in the majors, hardly the power numbers expected at his position. It must be pointed out that 2022 was just his first full MLB season and he hit .244 with an 88 wRC+ across 136 games as a 25-year-old with only 120 games played prior to that season. Yes, he only had seven home runs, but he hit 24 doubles, three triples, and when you post an 84th percentile or better hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, and max exit velocity, there's a lot of optimism for his power numbers in 2023. While Hayes is a gold-glove caliber defender and very good baserunner (30 career steals on 36 attempts), he still has been a below-average hitter by OPS+ and wRC+ standards over the last two seasons. He can crush a baseball, though, as seen with those average exit velocity and hard hit % numbers but they can come with shortcomings. His average launch angle (5.2 degrees) was below league average (12.7 degrees), and that means a lot of hard-hit balls are going straight into the ground plus since 2020, his 25.7% pull rate ranks 159th out of 160 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances. Now if you take Hayes’ average exit velocity of 90.9 and add six to seven degrees more to his launch angle, we then have a massive load of line drives. So, it’s clear – launch and elevate the ball more and hit fewer ground balls and we have a 20-home run bat in Ke’Bryan Hayes. 

Ke’Bryan Hayes MLB Career Numbers (Per Baseball Reference)

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Hayes probably wouldn’t mind if the regular season started today. I watched him play on Friday night against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium and his swing has looked terrific.  He finished with three hits, including a two-run home run in the seventh inning off a changeup on a 3-1 count. He's now hitting .353 with a team-high four home runs and a 1.165 OPS this spring.

Ke’Bryan Hayes 2023 Spring Training (Per Baseball Reference)

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Hayes hit seven home runs all last season and already has four this spring. Over his entire career, he has two home runs that had an exit velocity of 106 mph or higher. This year in spring training he has hit three home runs over 106 mph (106.9, 107.1, 108.2). He is fourth in all of baseball with a 96.1 average exit velocity (Aaron Judge was the MLB leader last year at 95.9) and a 9.8 launch angle. Yes, it’s only spring training but Hayes has always hit the ball hard and now it appears that he is really maximizing the hard contact. He reportedly put on 10-15 pounds of muscle over the winter after dealing with injuries over the past few years and even though he played 130 games last season he has now admitted that he dealt with a hip and lower back issue all year which may be a reason for some of the lack of power. 

Hayes was also tied for 17th in the major leagues in steals last season with 20.  With the Orioles Jorge Mateo leading the pack with 35, Hayes has the talent and speed to close the gap between the two and finish among the top five this year.  With an improved supporting cast in Pittsburgh from last year, Hayes is a third baseman worth betting on in fantasy formats, as there is hope for increased power, and he provides plus speed for the position. If he stays healthy and lifts the ball just a bit more, we are talking about a guy who could be in the 20/20 club and hit .260 or better in 2023. There aren’t many at the position projected to do that, and the door is wide open for Hayes to be a potential league top fantasy asset in 2023.


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