Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes reaggravated his wrist injury when taking swings as part of his rehab work last night, director of sports medicine Todd Tomcyzk told reporters this morning (Twitter links via Mike Persak of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). He’s headed back to Pittsburgh to have the injury reevaluated. Hayes’ injury isn’t the only bit of bad news revealed by Tomczyk this morning, either, as he also announced that outfielder Jared Oliva has been diagnosed with a left oblique strain and will miss roughly four weeks of action.
A setback for Hayes is a tough blow for the Pirates, who have watched the top prospect erupt with a .367/.441/.689 start to his MLB career dating back to last season. Hayes, the No. 32 overall pick in the 2015 draft, has homered six times through his first 102 big league plate appearances, adding in seven doubles and a pair of triples. He was expected to be a bright spot on a rebuilding Pirates roster this season, but there’s obviously no timeline for his return until he undergoes a new wave of evaluation.
In Hayes’ absence, the Pirates have gotten surprising production from 28-year-old Phillip Evans, who has been on a similarly excellent hot streak dating back to last summer. Since debuting with the Pirates in 2020, the former Mets farmhand has posted a massive .320/.405/.515 batting line with five homers and four doubles through 111 trips to the plate.
Whether he can sustain that pace is obviously questionable, but at least in the short term, he’s been a nice surprise while the Bucs await Hayes’ return. Evans can’t match Hayes’ elite defensive skills at the hot corner, but if he continues anything close to this level of output, he’s versatile enough to keep a spot in the Pirates’ lineup even when Hayes is back up to full strength.
As for the 25-year-old Oliva, he’s been with the Pirates’ group at their alternate training site, so he won’t go on the Major League injured list and will instead focus on rehabbing with the team’s minor league group. He made his big league debut in 2020 and collected three hits in 16 trips to the plate, but he’s generally regarded as a mid-tier prospect for the Pirates — one who very likely will factor into their plans this season. He ranked 19th among Pirates prospects this offseason at FanGraphs and 16th at MLB.com.
Oliva hit .277/.352/.398 with six homers, 24 doubles, six triples and 36 stolen bases in a very pitcher-friendly Double-A setting back in 2019. He’s capable of playing any of the three outfield spots, and while there are concerns about his hit tool and ability to elevate the ball, he’s thought to at least be capable of serving as a reserve outfielder with an outside chance of hitting enough to be a regular. Given the lack of production the Pirates have had in center field thus far, it’s quite possible he’ll eventually get a look there. For the time being, however, Oliva’s injury ought to give a longer leash to the struggling Dustin Fowler and newly claimed Ka’ai Tom.