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Now’s the time for Ke’Bryan Hayes

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Minnesota Twins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

As of now, it looks as though the Pirates will resume their 2020 season Tuesday night with the start of a three-game series with the Cleveland Indians at PNC Park.

Things went sideways in Cincinnati Friday night after it was revealed that a Reds player tested positive for COVID-19, and the last half of the four-game set was postponed. That, coupled with the postponement of a three-game set with the St. Louis Cardinals earlier last week, means the Pirates have played exactly twice in the last seven days, and today will make it eight.

There had been talk of the Reds and Pirates using today to make up the lost games, but manager Derek Shelton said Sunday that MLB said no to that idea. No makeup dates have been set; the Reds play in Pittsburgh Sept. 4-6 and both teams have an off-day on Sept. 7. They also will play later in September in Cincinnati.

The Pirates continue to remain healthy, COVID-wise, as a full slate of Saturday tests came back negative, according to Adam Berry of MLB.com.

Thursday’s series opener with the Reds was a welcome respite from the wars, as the Bucs got off to a strong start and hung on for an actual win – only their fourth in 18 starts. That qualifies them as the worst team in the majors.

That doesn’t mean the season is a lost cause, though. Assuming the club will complete most of its 60-game schedule – perhaps that’s too big of an assumption but humor me for the purposes of this exercise – that means the Pirates will have roughly 40 games remaining.

And while I wouldn’t in a million years think they’ll turn things around and compete for a playoff berth this season, I do think the 40 games should offer some opportunities to evaluate the players who might be returning in 2021 and perhaps beyond.

That means, they should give exactly zero at-bats the rest of the way to Jarrod Dyson, for starters, and perhaps Guillermo Heredia as well. I don’t care who plays center and right, as long as it’s NOT one of those two. Even Cole Tucker, whom I can’t envision being an everyday big league center fielder, would be preferable to me.

One player who should be getting reps and isn’t even on the big league roster is third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes. I don’t see what management is waiting for, now that the Super 2 arbitration date appears to have passed. Yes, there is a logjam of infielders – Kevin Newman, Adam Frazier, the surprising Erik Gonzalez, Colin Moran and the aforementioned Tucker – but why not make room for Hayes and see what he’s capable of over the last 40 games? I realize that there are only so many positions on the field, and the club would be wise to pump up the trade value of Frazier – and perhaps even Moran – by giving them at-bats, but I wonder how much Frazier’s value would go up if he hit .300 between now and the Aug. 31 trade deadline. I’m not a big league talent evaluator, but to me, Frazier is what he is – a decent fielder and a streaky hitter who won’t embarrass you, and when he’s hot, he can be a nice piece in a lineup.

But that’s already been established. And I can’t see a would-be trade partner waiting to see if Frazier can turn it on in as small a sample size as the next two weeks. So why not bring Hayes up and get him into the lineup on a semiregular basis? He could share time with Moran and Gonzalez at third; Moran could also share time at first with Josh Bell; Gonzalez could also share time at short with Newman, and Newman could share time with Frazier at second. Tucker? Let him continue to work his way into the outfield on occasion until Frazier is dealt and then Newman can shift over to second on a somewhat permanent basis. And there’s also a DH slot that can be used to give Moran some extra at-bats.

The rep on Hayes has always been that he’s a sparkling fielder whose bat hasn’t quite advanced at the same pace. I can’t imagine him getting buried at the plate, and even if he does, why sweat it? This is a forgettable season in so many ways, I doubt that if Hayes ends up hitting .206 over a six-week span that it’s going to psychologically scar him for the rest of his career. Besides, there have been outstanding players who have had rough debuts in the big leagues and didn’t let those slow starts define them.

Matt Williams, like Hayes, a third baseman, wound up having a nice 17-year career, the first 10 of which came with the Giants. He was a much-ballyhooed prospect, a first-round draft pick out of UNLV in 1986. Williams earned an early call-up to San Francisco in 1987 and in 245 at-bats over 84 games, he hit just .188 with a .578 OPS. The next year, it didn’t get much better – a .205 batting average and a .662 OPS in 156 at-bats. And in 1989 – Williams’ third trip to the big leagues – he fashioned a .202 batting average and a .697 OPS in 292 at-bats. The Giants, though, stuck with Williams and he rewarded them with several outstanding seasons, including back-to-back OPS seasons of .926 and 1.046 in 1994-95. He hit 43 home runs in that strike-shortened ’94 campaign, and there’s no telling what he would have finished with in a full season.

One more example: Michael Jack Schmidt. The Phillies’ third basemen struggled mightily in his first season, hitting .196 with a .697 OPS in 367 at-bats, but turned it around the following year and went on to a Hall of Fame career.

The point is, not everyone breaks into the big leagues and excels. Some players struggle. Why not let Hayes struggle – if he does indeed struggle — in a season that means absolutely nothing in terms of results and standings? I’d rather see him struggle in the last month of 2020 than the first month of 2021.