Third-base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes living out childhood dreams at Pirates camp
BRADENTON, Fla. — Ke’Bryan Hayes compared the moment to backyard baseball, the kind of storybook ending to a spring training home opener that a kid can only dream about.
With two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a tied game, Hayes worked a full count against Miami Marlins left-hander Jose Quijada. Where a walk would have won the game, Hayes crushed one over the left-field fence for a walk-off grand slam to put an exclamation point on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 10-6 victory Sunday at LECOM Park.
“Being able to do it in a real game,” Hayes said, “is pretty awesome for me.”
— Pirates (@Pirates) February 24, 2019
It was the second home run of the game for Hayes, who crushed a 3-2 pitch by Nick Neidert — the Marlins’ No. 4 prospect — off the batter’s eye in center field in the sixth inning. The 22-year-old Hayes had replaced Jung Ho Kang at third base in the sixth after Kang hit solo homers in each of his first two at-bats, a first for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
Nothing about Hayes, one of the Pirates’ two first-round picks in 2015, comes as a surprise. He’s the son of Charlie Hayes, who spent 14 seasons in the majors and played 128 games for the Pirates in 1996.
“Every day people say I’m the spitting image of him,” Hayes said. “I’m glad that I have a father that played, but sometimes I don’t even look at him as that. I just look at him as dad, so that’s pretty special.”
What made it even more special is Charlie Hayes, a Gulf Coast League coach in the Philadelphia Phillies’ system, was in attendance to witness his son’s two-homer performance and game-ending heroics.
“I cherish every moment that he’s able to come out and see me,” said Ke’Bryan Hayes, who is in his first major-league camp.
Where Kang and Colin Moran are competing for the starting job at third base, Hayes is the No. 2 prospect in the Pirates’ system and No. 46 in baseball.
— Pirates (@Pirates) February 24, 2019
That’s why the Pirates placed his locker directly between Josh Bell and Melky Cabrera at Pirate City, surrounding him with veterans Gregory Polanco, Francisco Cervelli and Starling Marte for what Hurdle called “communication opportunities” in the clubhouse.
“He’s very humble and he’s got experience beyond his years, based on his upbringing,” Hurdle said of Hayes. “He’s been around baseball parks and clubhouses for a long time. That being said, I think he’s very grateful and appreciative of the opportunity and he’s just fitting right in and not taking anything for granted and going out there and working with the group. He’s not going to miss an opportunity to do something that he believes he can do — and do well.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hayes has a better reputation for his play at third base, as Charlie challenged him to work as hard on defense as he does at the plate. Ke’Bryan takes pride in his glove but has worked hard at hitting off-speed pitches and learning to drive the ball.
That was evident before his two-homer game. Hayes slashed .293/.375/.444 with seven home runs and 47 RBIs in 117 games for Double-A Altoona last season and hit a two-run blast to left in the Futures Game last summer.
“I feel like every year a different part of my game has gotten better,” he said. “I feel like the Pirates have done a great job developing us young players. From the time I came out of high school to now, it’s night and day, as far as physical, mental and everything. I’m just excited for this year.”
For now, Hayes is making the most of his time with the Pirates and cherishing a moment that’s even better than he dreamed in the backyard.
“It’s awesome to be able to be in my first big-league spring training and be around guys that are where I want to be,” Hayes said. “I’m just excited to be here and ready to learn as much as I can.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .