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Hays ready to compete for OF spot in camp

Orioles' top prospect is in the 25-man mix after a breakout campaign
MLB.com @Britt_Ghiroli

SARASOTA, Fla. -- What a difference a year makes. Austin Hays broke out in a big way in 2017, leading the Orioles' Minor League system with a .329 average, 32 homers, 95 RBIs and 310 total bases. The reward? A September callup, where the young outfielder gave O's fans a glimpse of the future.

Now, Hays -- who, at No. 23 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, is the Orioles' top-ranked prospect -- will vie for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- What a difference a year makes. Austin Hays broke out in a big way in 2017, leading the Orioles' Minor League system with a .329 average, 32 homers, 95 RBIs and 310 total bases. The reward? A September callup, where the young outfielder gave O's fans a glimpse of the future.

Now, Hays -- who, at No. 23 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, is the Orioles' top-ranked prospect -- will vie for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

"I'm going to have to do everything," Hays said of potentially heading north with the club. "I'm going to have to play defense well, run well, throw well, hit well. I got to get better throughout Spring Training the whole time."

Asked what he learned about his time in Baltimore, Hays -- who hit .217/.238/.317 with three doubles and eight RBIs in 20 games -- said it's about keeping focus.

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"I'm just trying to slow everything down, don't get caught up in the moment or caught up in the fans or anything like that," he said. "Just focus on pitch to pitch what you need to do. Everything else takes care of itself."

Mesa has starter potential
The Orioles will have eight starting pitchers in camp -- two of which are Rule 5 Draft picks Nestor Cortes Jr. and Jose Mesa -- being considered for the rotation. Top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey will also be treated like a starter, although he is not expected to break camp with the club.

Cortes, who was selected from the Yankees' Triple-A team, is a pitcher the O's feel could be a potential weapon. Mesa is more of a surprise given that he spent last year with New York's Double-A team.

"That's the guy we added to the mix [today]," Showalter said of a group that includes Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa, Miguel Castro, Cortes and Harvey.

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"One of the problems is sometimes because you know who his father is, and you don't know him, you automatically think he's a relief pitcher. You look at his numbers in Double-A as a starter. I think a lot of it is because the Yankees have so many quality pitching prospects, that they put him in the bullpen I guess. But his starting numbers are really worth looking at and we are going to do that."

Mesa, the son of the former big league reliever of the same name, went 3-0 with a 0.36 ERA in five starts for Trenton last year. Overall as a starter in '17 -- including some time with Class A Advanced Tampa -- Mesa allowed only one earned run in 35 innings.

Unlike Cortes, Mesa did not throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. He'll go with the other half of the pitchers on Thursday.

"He's a confident guy when it comes to anything athletically, you can tell," Showalter said of Cortes. "He's going to bounce off the mound, he's going to field his position, he's going to hold runners, he's going to throw the ball over the plate. Those are some good things to bring. Now he's got to get some people out. But all three of the Rule 5 guys were impressive today."

Pedro Araujo, who was the O's other Rule 5 pick, also threw a 'pen session on Wednesday.

Garner out to prove he's healthy 
Reliever Perci Garner is a full go in camp, as the 29-year-old has rehabbed diligently in coming back from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in early December. Garner, who signed as a free agent, was glad he got down to Sarasota early as his offseason was a bit behind.

"[I] had a physical therapist back home, but they have more resources here, so recovery has been a lot better," he said. "Usually I would have started throwing like the second week of December, but I didn't start throwing until, like Jan. 17, I believe, so I'm a little bit behind. I've gotten two bullpens in so far."

Garner, who was not among the half that threw a bullpen session in Wednesday's first workout, chose the O's over the Pirates this winter. He inked a Minor League deal with Baltimore that included an invite to big league camp.

"It really came down to two teams, and the Orioles, they just seemed like they really liked me, and wanted me, and wanted what was best for me. And not just to sign another guy," Garner said. "I was really interested, and the fact that they were interested in me. And I knew some guys here and I've heard some things about the organization. I got to speak with [executive vice president of baseball operations] Dan Duquette, and I liked the way he handled our conversation."

Injuries limited Garner to six games last year, but he pitched to a 1.63 ERA at Triple-A Columbus in 2016. Garner also appeared in eight games for the Indians that year, posting a 4.82 ERA over 9 1/3 innings.

Worth Noting
• Those who threw bullpens on Wednesday were: Araujo, Bundy, Jayson Aquino, Jhan Marinez, Donnie Hart, Richard Bleier, Castro, Cortes, Jeff Ferrell, Stefan Crichton, Jimmy Yacabonis, Eddie Gamboa, Jason Gurka, Harvey, Eduardo Rodriguez, David Hess.

Engelb Vielma, who will compete for the utility infield job, may be delayed due to visa issues in Venezuela.

• The O's will hold an intrasquad game on Feb. 22.

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.

Baltimore Orioles, Austin Hays