The Hazleton Standard-Speaker

Bucs’ Hayes seeks more success

- BY WILL GRAVES

The numbers were eyepopping. At least, they were eye-popping to everyone except Ke’bryan Hayes.

His ability to handle his business at third base was never in doubt. Winning three Gold Gloves in the minors offered all the proof required. Yet there were still questions — at least externally — about how the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top prospect would adjust at the plate after middling numbers at best during his rise through the team’s farm system.

Hayes answered all of them during a blistering September, hitting .376 with five home runs, three triples and 17 doubles on his way to a sixth-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting. His .682 slugging percentage was more than 200 points higher than his best year in the minors.

“I mean I feel like I’ve always had the power,” Hayes said Tuesday. “I just feel like I wasn’t putting my body in a consistent position to hit the ball hard. I feel like I’ve always had stretches where I’ll hit the ball really hard, but it would be for a game or two and then for the next two. three games I wouldn’t.”

Not last fall. Hayes collected at least one hit in 20 of his 24 appearance­s and ended the season with an eightgame hitting streak, his play one of the few highlights as the Pirates finished with the worst record in the major leagues.

Hayes spent the offseason working on his form, trying to get ready for the adjustment­s from opponents he knows is coming to come. He also finds himself as the best candidate to become the de facto face of the franchise following the departures of Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon among others.

It’s a role Hayes understand­s has basically fallen into his lap. That doesn’t mean he’s going to spend a lot of time worrying about it. He’s been low-key since his starting joining his father — 13-year major league veteran and 1996 World Series champion Charlie Hayes — on the diamond. He’s happy to be considered a leader. Just don’t expect him to undergo a personalit­y makeover to accomplish it.

“I think he’ll probably play 15 years in the big leagues and never change,” second-year Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “That’s who he is. He’s the same person every day, he was the same person every day when he came to the park last year, and expect that to kind of go forward.”

Still, Hayes admits he’s suddenly gone from one of the young guys to one of the more establishe­d faces in the clubhouse in a year. The Pirates are undergoing a top to bottom makeover. His spot at third base is one of the few places on the roster where there are no longterm questions.

As difficult as the shortterm might be, Hayes expressed confidence in the big picture. General manager Ben Cherington is doing his best to stockpile talent in the minors. Hayes figures it’s his job to help create the culture in the clubhouse that will help lead Pittsburgh back to respectabi­lity.

 ?? GENE J. PUSKAR / ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Pittsburgh Pirates’ Ke’bryan Hayes rounds third base after hitting a solo home run off Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks during a game in Pittsburgh, in this Sept. 23, 2020, file photo. A year ago, Hayes entered spring training trying to bide his time until he made his big-league debut. Now the third baseman finds himself as the de facto face of the franchise after an abbreviate­d breakout rookie season.
GENE J. PUSKAR / ASSOCIATED PRESS Pittsburgh Pirates’ Ke’bryan Hayes rounds third base after hitting a solo home run off Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks during a game in Pittsburgh, in this Sept. 23, 2020, file photo. A year ago, Hayes entered spring training trying to bide his time until he made his big-league debut. Now the third baseman finds himself as the de facto face of the franchise after an abbreviate­d breakout rookie season.

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