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Do We Owe Austin Hays an Apology?

Austin Hays takes a spring training AB
Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports
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Welcome back to another Spring Training Observation. As this article is being written, we only have ten days until Opening Day. Questions are slowly being answered, yet more remain that need to be discussed.

So let’s discuss them:

The Mountain is back

When the Orioles broke camp, three injuries to pitchers were announced. Felix Bautista was one of them, and it kept him out until last week. In the two innings of work he had returning from injury, he has struck out four batters while not giving up a hit.

Do you hear that whistle in the background coming from the bullpen? It can only mean one thing, Felix is back and will be ready for Opening Day.

Do we owe Hays an Apology?

It isn’t a stretch to say that Austin Hays had another disappointing season last year. After looking like a new man in the first half, he turned into the worst version we have ever seen of him in the second half. It is still debated why this happened (injuries to his wrist, cutting his hand open sliding back into first base, and an overall regression in his approach are the most likely to blame.)

Hays has started hitting this spring, and he looks like the first half of 2022 Hays. He is hitting .440/.464/.960, with four home runs and two doubles. If Hays can keep this up and carry this into the regular season, I might have to apologize to him. It seems like I didn’t consider how his injuries affected his performance in the second half.

Still, health is the most important thing for him, and if he is going to stay around, at least for now, he needs to keep healthy because if he can’t, we might see that second-half version reappear.

How will the Orioles reward Kjerstad?

Heston Kjerstad has been awesome this Spring, putting together one of the most impressive springs for an Orioles prospect.

So the question becomes, what happens next with him?

We can guarantee he won’t make the roster, but where exactly does he go? Kjerstad was always ticketed toward Bowie, but is he too good for Double-A? Should he be with the Tides instead, thanks to his red hot spring and Arizona Fall League MVP performance? Heston skipping Double-A would be very surprising because a highly touted Prospect has never skipped a level during Mike Elias’s tenure. They have all had to go level to level.

Maybe they consider Heston a special case because this is where he should be if he didn’t get hurt last year, but Elias going against what he has always done for four years seems unlikely.

Kjerstad will start in Double-A, and the only reward he gets is that he did perform so well and got to stay with the team for so long.

We don’t have to do this with Grayson

This one is going to take some explaining. Grayson Rodriguez has been iffy this spring, as he has a high ERA and has been home run prone. The conversations about him after his recent start though aren’t about how good he will be or how worried we should be; instead, some of the takes I have been seeing have been focusing on if he even makes the rotation out of spring.

Some fans think the O’s would even keep him done in Triple-A just to keep him down for service time. These conversations don’t make a lot of sense to me. For one, using Spring Training stats to justify who makes it or not is playing a dangerous game. GrayRod’s ERA is high, but do you know whose ERA is higher? Tyler Wells and Austin Voth are the two pitchers who would replace Rodriguez if he did go down to Triple-A. So trying to use his performance to take him down doesn’t work because the guys around him aren’t doing any better.

Number two, his stuff is fine. His high ERA is due to bad luck, and perhaps trusting his stuff too much. He has the same issue that Gerrit Cole has, where he trusts his pitches a little too much, making him prone to home runs. Add this with the unlucky hits and errors by infielders (looking at you, Jorge Mateo), and it is no wonder his ERA is so high.

Lastly, the theory that the O’s could manipulate his service time seems silly. Grayson was going to be making his Major League Debut in 2022 before he got hurt, which would have started his clock. MLB’s rules and draft pick compensation make it seem less likely to happen. End of the story, the Orioles aren’t going to keep Grayson Rodriguez down for a month just because he had a bad spring when he was better than other options; the stuff is great, and keeping him down for a month makes no sense when compensation is attached to Rodriguez making the roster out of spring.

Westburg is not making it easy

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Before camp began, one of the main questions I had was what would happen to the three big infield prospects who were supposedly given every chance to make the roster. While Connor Norby and Joey Ortiz got sent back to Minor league camp, Jordan Westburg stayed and has been making every second count. He is hitting .308/.364/.513 with an OPS of .877. He also has one homer, three doubles, and a triple.  If Westburg had been sent back to camp, then this probably wouldn’t mean much, but since he is still here and hasn’t been sent down and has played a good chunk of games already at Triple-A, it makes the O’s decision of what to do with him much harder.

I still think he gets sent down, just because of the Adam Frazier signing and Ramon Urias still being here, but if they released Frazier and traded Urias and/or Mateo, and Westburg made it, that would be cool to see.

Thanks for reading, and come back next week for the finale of the Spring training observations.

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