With his mental makeup, Ke’Bryan Hayes could have been mostly anything he wanted to be in life.
He stands confident and well-spoken, and flashes a smile when needed. Hayes, the Pittsburgh Pirates second-rated prospect by nearly every media outlet (including being #2 in the Pirates’ system on Ryan James’ 2019 Pirates Top 50 prospects), is serious and takes pride in everything he does. His desire is simply to be the best that he can in everything he tries. In even just five minutes in his presence, all of this is evident. However, in Hayes’ case, he was born to be a ball player. “I pretty much played everything growing up,” Hayes told me. “I played baseball, basketball, football. I liked baseball the best, obviously, growing up around it a lot and seeing my dad play. It inspired me to want to play it and be better than him.”
The father he speaks of is 14-year major league veteran Charlie Hayes, and the goal of being better is a lofty one. In his big league career, the elder Hayes collected 1,379 hits and boasted of a .262 lifetime batting average. While Hayes admits that he was still very young when his father retired, and does not have much recollection of running around the clubhouse, he still took some valuable lessons from an athletic family. In saying his goal is to be better than his father, his competitive spirit is something that gives Hayes an edge on the field and something that he has always known. “We are a very competitive household,” Hayes said. “My older brothers were always tough on me as a kid. Even my mom, we are very competitive with stuff. Pretty much everything is a competition around our house.” This competitive spirit led Hayes to play ahead of his age bracket growing up. In playing with an older brother, Hayes said that they would get on him about, even the smallest, aspects of his game that experience showed would come in handy down the road.
I also had the opportunity to speak with Indianapolis Indians manager Brian Esposito about Hayes. He sees the difference that this experience has in Hayes’ game. “(Baseball history) are some things that you cannot take into account for certain people,” Esposito said. “He grew up in a clubhouse and his old man played for 14 years in the big leagues. There are experiences there. The conversations that he has at his kitchen table are different than some of these other guys, growing up with that lifestyle.” Hayes credits some of this early advice from his father in making his game stronger. He said that Charlie would tell him to watch the game closely when not on the field. He also encouraged watching video of as much baseball as possible. There are not many scenarios that Hayes has not seen in his just 22-years of life around a baseball diamond. Esposito sees that high baseball IQ from the dugout as well. He also sees that competitiveness and professionalism that Hayes bring on a daily basis and how it rubs off on his teammates. “He has that edge already,” Esposito said “But he has his own edge and his own thoughts. He has his own personality in how he goes about his business. He is a straight gamer. He shows up and he is ready to roll.”
One aspect that Hayes will need to tap into to reach his full potential in professional baseball is his power. After a shortage in 2017, where he saw a career low .708 OPS in 421 at bats, Hayes bounced back in a big way last season in Double-A. He swatted 31 doubles and seven home runs, and raised his OPS over a hundred points. For this drastic improvement, Hayes has a pair of reasons. “Just growing up and getting stronger (is what I credit to the power),” Hayes said. “I had the rib injury in 2016. That plagued my whole offseason the next year. I had lost like 25 pounds. The High-A year of 2017 was just getting back out on the field and healthy. I had lost a lot of weight, so I expected to lose some of my power. That offseason, I got to get back in the weight room and this year, I had a full offseason of six months in the weight room. It is just getting older and getting in the weight room.”
Nothing points to Hayes playing anywhere but third base, as he has shown both solid range and a strong throwing arm. Additionally, he has committed just 14 errors in nearly 600 chances at the hot corner over the past three seasons. While there are ultimately no guarantees that a ballplayer will be a future all-star at the next level. However, with his pedigree and personality, there is no doubt that Hayes will certainly put himself in the best position to do so.