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Perrotto: Why Ke’Bryan Hayes is My Pick to Click



Pittsburgh Pirates, Ke'Bryan Hayes

One of my favorite stories to write in the final days of spring training is the annual Pittsburgh Pirates’ Pick to Click column.

Some years, I get it right. David Bednar was my selection in 2021 and the man from Mars has become one of the top closers in the major leagues.

Some years, I get it wrong. Ronny Cedeno was my choice in 2011 and he went on to hit just .249 with two home runs.

I am not exactly going out on a long limb with this year’s choice but I have reasons why he is ready to break out.

The Pick to Click has become a fixture with the Pirates. Yet while he has been successful, he hasn’t put together an outstanding season yet.

However, this is the year when Ke’Bryan Hayes will become a star player. The Pirates have been expecting to reach that level since signing him to an eight-year, $70-million contract on the day of the home opener in 2022 and the payoff is coming.

There has never been any question about Hayes’ fielding.

He arrived in the major leagues in 2020 with the reputation of being an outstanding defensive third baseman and has lived up to that billing, Hayes won his first National League Gold Glove last season and has 61 defensive runs saved over the last three years.

Hayes could become one of the greatest defensive third basemen in history. We’re talking Brooks Robinson territory here and I’m not exaggerating. Hayes is that good.

Hitting hasn’t come as easy to Hayes at the major-league level since his sizzling debut during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He hit .376/.442/.682 in 24 games that year.

In the ensuing three seasons, Hayes’ slash line has been a mediocre .257/.313/.392

However, things began to turn offensively for Hayes during the second half of last season. He batted .299/.335/.539 with just 10 home runs in 49 games following the All-Stark break.

There were a few reasons for the jump in Hayes’ production.

For one, Hayes took the initiative to seek out Jon Nunnally, the hitting coach of the Pirates’ Double-A Altoona farm club. Hayes had to do so in secrecy for fear of antagonizing the front office by bypassing major-league hitting coach Andy Haines.

That might be an indictment of Haines, but Hayes deserves credit for taking responsibility for the direction of his career. And Hayes has followed his big second half with a fine spring, hitting .388/.412/.633 with three doubles and three home runs in 49 at-bats in the Grapefruit League.

Injuries have been a factor for Hayes. He has had problems with his hands and feet. but the most overarching issue has been with his back.

Hayes has found an exercise routine that keeps his back strong and flexible. He has made it to the last day of spring training without any problems.

That lends more optimism that Hayes is ready to ride his good health and momentum from last season to his first All-Star Game appearance, a second Gold Glove and down-ballot MVP votes.

John Perrotto is a columnist for Pittsburgh Baseball Now and has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB since 1988.

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