But for Hayes, there’s always next year -- yes, really. He still could be the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year.
Hayes spent less than a month in the Majors and totaled only 85 at-bats in 24 games, so he will maintain his rookie status heading into next season. After what he accomplished at the plate and in the field during his debut, there’s no doubt he’ll take the field on Opening Day as one of the favorites to win the award.
The 23-year-old became a prospect to watch during his time in the Minors, but questions persisted about his bat even when he reached the Majors as MLB Pipeline’s No. 37 overall prospect. Hayes answered those immediately, slashing .376/.442/.682 with five homers, seven doubles and two triples on his way to winning NL Rookie of the Month honors in September.
“It's just a big confidence booster for me and helps, just being out there and see what other things I can get better at this offseason, things of that nature,” Hayes said on the last day of the regular season. “It’s a confidence booster for me to get out there, get some games and have some success.
“I was just so excited to finally get the opportunity to come up here, just wanted to show what I could do and go out there, try to play to the best of my ability.”
Despite making his debut on Sept. 1 and playing in less than half of Pittsburgh’s 60 games, Hayes easily led the team with 1.8 WAR, according to Baseball Reference's metric. His FanGraphs WAR total (1.7) was tied with unanimous American League Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis for the best mark among all Major League rookies this year -- and the Mariners outfielder played in 34 more games than Hayes.
So there’s an argument that Hayes shouldn’t have to wait until next season, that he was worthy of winning this year’s NL Rookie of the Year Award despite his limited playing time. Pirates manager Derek Shelton pointed out the historical precedent, noting that he saw Wil Myers named 2013 AL Rookie of the Year despite playing in only 88 of the Rays’ games that season.
“I don't see why his name shouldn't be thrown in the mix,” Shelton said in September.
Ultimately, Hayes received just one second-place vote and a pair of third-place votes. He finished behind the winner Williams, co-runners-up Bohm and Cronenworth and a pair of Dodgers pitchers: Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May.
The third-place votes Hayes received came from members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, according to the balloting results revealed Monday night.
NL ROY VOTING RESULTS
Devin Williams (MIL): 14 (1st place), 6 (2nd), 7 (3rd) – 95 points
Alec Bohm (PHI): 9 (1st), 8 (2nd), 5 (3rd) – 74 points
Jake Cronenworth (SD): 6 (1st), 12 (2nd), 8 (3rd) – 74 points
Tony Gonsolin (LAD): 1 (1st), 1 (2nd), 3 (3rd) – 11 points
Dustin May (LAD): 2 (2nd), 2 (3rd) – 8 points
Ke’Bryan Hayes (PIT): 1 (2nd), 2 (3rd) – 5 points
Andrés Giménez (NYM): 1 (3rd) – 1 point
Sixto Sánchez (MIA): 1 (3rd) – 1 point
Ian Anderson (ATL): 1 (3rd) – 1 point
Next year, Hayes -- part of a young core the Pirates are hoping to build around -- should be on the national radar from the start despite playing for a team that went 19-41 this season.
The son of longtime big leaguer Charlie Hayes, Ke'Bryan is a Gold Glove-caliber defender at third base. Offensively, he combined power (a 92.8 mph average exit velocity) with a good eye and bat-to-ball ability (a 93.7 percent contact rate at pitches in the zone).
Hayes started the season at the Pirates’ alternate training site after testing positive for COVID-19 and finished the year on an eight-game hitting streak. Over the final three games, he became the first Pirates player since Andy Van Slyke to collect eight straight hits. Few players were better over the last month of the season -- and he’s just getting started.
“He’s been as advertised and more. He’s a guy that has been a vacuum at third base. He’s been dominant in the box,” teammate Trevor Williams said in September. “He’s putting together really good ABs. I’m thankful that he’s on my team and I don’t have to try to get him out, because he’s been doing fantastic. I think he’s been really itching for this opportunity, and I think he knew that this year was going to be his year to capitalize on that opportunity.
“He’s going to be fun to watch at PNC Park for years to come.”