Often in fantasy baseball, a successful prospect debut causes the value of the player to soar to ridiculous heights and the attached price tag to almost always seem undeserving. But Ke’Bryan Hayes does not necessarily fit that same mold. In NFBC drafts, Hayes is the 17th third baseman coming off the board at an ADP north of 140. That doesn’t seem right for a guy that just posted a .376/.442/.682 with a 195 wRC+ across 24 games in his MLB debut. So, what gives?
The rise through the system
Hayes started out his professional career in 2015 after being selected as the 32nd overall pick by the Pirates in the MLB draft. In the GCL and Low A, he immediately made an impact hitting over .300 while showcasing special glovework on the defensive side of the game. Over the next few years, Hayes slowly progressed through the minor leagues with the hit tool and glove being his two calling cards, understandably decreasing the excitement of the fantasy community, and gaining the dreaded ‘better real life’ tag. But in 2018 we started to see some significant gains with the bat from Hayes.
Hayes showed an improvement across the board at each level, but none stood out more than his SLG and ISO from 2017 to 2018. Hayes showed that he had clearly found a way to develop into the power department all while holding true to his advanced approach and great contact ability as evidenced by his gains in BB% and BB/K. So what might have allowed Hayes to finally begin to tap into some more power numbers?
By analyzing Ke’Bryan’s swing we can see that the swing on the left shows a more upright stance whereas his swing in 2018 (right) has him bent more at the waist with an altogether more athletic setup. This gives him a much better ability to stay balanced and use his back leg to generate more power while keeping his body synced. Hayes is an extreme athlete and was already proving able to excel early in his professional career even with limited use of his lower half. Anytime a prospect with a great feel and approach starts showing signs of tapping into more power, dynasty managers start to get giddy. Hayes's new swing change allows him to do just that by better syncing the upper and lower body throughout contact with the baseball.
Does swing change = results change?
This swing change seems to certainly be a critical point in Hayes's development, but by looking into the batted ball data we will emphasize our findings even more so.
Ke’Bryan Hayes BIP spray charts show a trend of more and more balls put into the outfield over the 3 years between A, A+, and AA. Particularly in 2018, we can see far more dots filling up that outfield grass pointing out results from his swing change. Even more encouraging is the fact that Hayes was able to continue to use his strong approach to drive the ball consistently to all fields rather than having to sell out for pulling the ball. By being able to maintain elite contact rates, improve his BB%, and boost his FB% while hitting balls further into the outfield, Hayes truly showed that 2018 was his breakout.
Up to present day and looking ahead
In 2019 at AAA, Hayes saw his GB% tick back up to 46.4% but he also was able to post a solid 19.2 LD% to keep his ISO (.150) right on pace with the career-best number he saw in 2018 (.151). After a slow start, Hayes continued to show an ability to drive the ball with authority in 2019 as visualized below by his estimated Fly Ball distance.
Then we get to his ridiculous MLB debut. Clearly, the debut backs up the fact that Ke’Bryan Hayes has continued to develop throughout his career. However, after hitting .376 with a 1.124 OPS and .306 ISO it is easy to see why many managers are electing to try and sell high on the young third basemen. That is so video game like that I probably don’t even have to bother doing a statistical breakdown on why these numbers are not sustainable. You know that already! But a maxEV of 110.3 alone shows that the ability to hit for sustained power at the game’s highest level is there. Furthermore, small sample size aside, posting a 55.4% HardHit% with an average EV of 92.8 is nothing to scoff at either. Overall, Ke’Bryan Hayes should continue to be elite when it comes to making contact (96.1 Z-Contact%) and putting together competitive at-bats with a great feel for his barrel and zone. He will never be the prototypical 40 HR slugger at the hot corner but what he lacks there expect him to make up for with great rate statistics and solid speed. I fully expect Hayes to back up his 2020 break-out performance but think there could be many owners that are not as sure and might be overzealous to make a move.