The Pirates placed third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes on the 10-day injured list yesterday, retroactive to July 13. Hayes has missed the Bucs’ last four games due to a middle-back muscle strain, and he’ll now get a few more days to recuperate while the Pirates can play with a full roster. Kevin Padlo (recently claimed off waivers from the Mariners) was called up from Triple-A to take Hayes’ spot on the open roster.
Now in his third MLB season, Hayes has yet to fully live up to his top-prospect billing, at least at the plate. The 25-year-old is making plenty of hard contact, but it has translated to only a .251/.323/.358 slash line and six home runs over 434 plate appearances this season. After exploding onto the scene with a 1.124 OPS in 95 PA in his 2020 rookie campaign, Hayes has only a .685 OPS in 830 subsequent PA in the majors.
On the plus side, Hayes has already established himself as an elite defensive player. Hayes leads all players in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (+16) and only four players have more Outs Above Average than Hayes’ +12 total. While Nolan Arenado is also up near the top of both lists, Hayes certainly looks like at least a finalist for this year’s NL Gold Glove at third base.
It doesn’t appear as though Hayes’ injury is too serious, so the Pirates can only hope he can return to action in short order and continue to garner more experience. A cornerstone piece of Pittsburgh’s rebuild, Hayes signed an eight-year, $70MM extension in April that stands as the largest contract in Pirates history.
Mitch Keller is another younger player the Bucs had tabbed as a key part of the future, and like Hayes, Keller’s early returns in his MLB career have been mixed. It also seems like Keller is facing some injury problems, as right shoulder fatigue forced him out of last night’s start against the Red Sox after two innings of work.
Keller’s average velocity was down on all of his pitches, yet the right-hander chalked the performance up as “just one of those days.” Speaking to MLB.com’s Justice delos Santos and other reporters, Keller said his shoulder was feeling better after the game, though it remains to be seen if the Pirates might at least skip or push back Keller’s next start, even if an IL trip isn’t necessary.
After a rough 2021 season that saw him post a 6.17 ERA/4.98 SIERA in 100 2/3 innings, Keller’s 2022 campaign has at least been an improvement in bottom-line numbers. The right-hander has a 4.49 ERA/4.29 SIERA in 114 1/3 frames this year, due in part to only a .329 BABIP (down from his sky-high .388 figure last year). However, any above-average BABIP isn’t a good sign for a pitcher who relies on grounders more than strikeouts, as Keller has only a 20.7% strikeout rate over his career and his walk rates have also been below average.
Keller will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and his relative lack of success at the MLB level should result in a pretty modest 2023 salary. Considering the number of question marks in Pittsburgh’s rotation, Keller probably isn’t likely to be non-tendered, though a trade might be a possibility if the Pirates no longer see Keller as a building block.