Veteran catcher Brett Hays embracing his role with Round Rock

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Brett Hayes just likes to roll with the punches.

When Express manager Jason Wood was away from the field last week, the 33-year-old catcher grabbed his stopwatch and helmet and headed down the first base line to assume the interim role of first base coach for the night.

“I just want to try something new when I’m done playing if I do stay in baseball,” Hayes said. “I think where my interests lie are more on the front office side of the game. I’d be learning something new. If that doesn’t work out, coaching is an option.”

But the 13-year veteran still has plenty to offer on the field as he has a .198 average with two home runs and 10 RBIs in his first year with Round Rock this season. 

He said he’s still focused on his production on the field. But being one of the more veteran players in the clubhouse, Hayes has started to embrace the leadership role and help the team get better overall.

“When I’m playing, I’m just trying to win a ballgame,” he said. “When I’m not playing, I’m talking to pitchers and working how to game plan go at hitters. I’m not trying to tell guys how to do things, but we bounce things off each other.” 

The Express are in a bit of an interesting situation when it comes to the roster, and more specifically, the catchers.

While many minor and major league teams had just two backstops, Round Rock carries three catchers on the roster, Hays, A.J. Jimenez, and Brett Nicholas. They even traded a fourth catcher, Pat Cantwell, to the Toronto Blue Jays organization in early May.

Nicholas is the only one of the three on the Rangers’ 40-man roster and has spent some time in the big leagues this season. Jimenez is hitting .175 with a pair of home runs in his first year in Round Rock after spending nine years in the Blue Jays’ organization.

Hays said all of them want to play all the time, but they understand that’s not a realistic option. There are no hard feelings or anger toward anyone if one plays more behind the plate than the other two.

“We’re teammates first and foremost and it’s not a popularity contest,” Hayes said. “It’s not our job to make the lineup. Things happen for a reason and I’m just trying to help the team win.”

Nicholas has caught the most innings this season with 270, while Hayes comes in at No. 2 with 195 behind the plate and Jimenez has 171.2. 

Wood is the man tasked with who plays when and where. Many times this season, while one catcher is working behind the plate, the other will be the designated hitter and the third will get the day off.

“We’ve got three quality catchers, two of which have caught at the highest level,” Wood said. “With Nicholas being on the 40-man roster and the way that he can hit, he’s got the edge. But it’s tough being a manager with three catchers. I rank them all pretty much even." 

Hayes spent the first eight years of his career in the Marlins organization and made his major league debut in 2009. He's started 64 games at the big league level for the Marlins in the 2011-2012 seasons but was released after 2012.

Kansas City claimed him off waivers and he played for the Royals and their Triple-A affiliate in Omaha for two seasons. Hays spent 2015 with the Cleveland Indians, appearing in 14 games and blasting three home runs in his last stint in the majors.

He said the Texas organization is one of the best in baseball because the communication with players and coaches is great and everybody lets him know exactly what they expect from him and vice versa. 

“The Rangers top the list in terms of being professional and respectful,” he said. “Every player has their own journey and story and they give it to you straight. As a professional player, that’s all you can ask for.” 

Hays knows his offense is what needs to improve the most. He is taking advantage of being the once-a-week guy in Round Rock so that he will be prepared if he gets the call from the Rangers to serve in the same role in the big leagues. 

He can still remember the first time he got the call when he was in Reno that he was going to the big leagues. He showed up to the field 30 minutes before the game with very little sleep and got a hit in his first at-bat and felt like he was floating.

“It was a humbling experience,” he said. “You work all those years in high school and college then you get drafted and finally get chosen to go to the big leagues and it’s a big deal. I feel like I’m still learning and working every day. Until they take the jersey off my back, I’m going to continue to do that.” 

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