The submarining right-hander was not put on Kansas City's 40-man roster this offseason, making him available to be taken in the Draft held annually at the Winter Meetings.
This year's Draft will take place at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday. MLB.com/Live will carry live audio coverage of the event from Indianapolis.
Here's what Hayes is looking forward to, in a nutshell:
During the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, eligible players left unprotected from their clubs' 40-man rosters may be selected for $50,000. A player selected must remain on his drafting team's active Major League roster during the following season or be sent back to the original club for $25,000.
"Career-wise, it's an opportunity to go to big league Spring Training with someone, be on the 25-man roster and hopefully you'll stick," Hayes said. "That'd be a nice opportunity."
Hayes need only look back two years for both a cautionary and hopeful tale. Prior to the 2007 Rule 5 Draft, the A's left a submarining right-handed reliever off their 40-man roster. Like Hayes, this pitcher split time between Double-A and Triple-A in the season prior and performed very well, but the A's didn't have room on the 40-man for him.
The gamble paid off. No one took the right-hander and he came back to the A's. After starting the 2008 season in Triple-A, he got called up and set a rookie record by tossing 39 consecutive scoreless innings to start his career. That's right, Brad Ziegler, who finished eighth in American League Rookie of the Year voting, could've been had for $50,000 by any team in baseball the previous December.
"It was frustrating to not get taken, but I felt the A's were the team that wanted to make that investment in the first place," said Ziegler, who converted to a submarine approach heading into that 2007 season. "They're not afraid to use 'gimmick' guys. They had Chad Bradford and I knew they were looking for another guy like that."
Hayes, for his part, has been using the submarine style since his senior year in college, when as a seldom-used walk-on middle infielder and catcher, he volunteered to help out Northwestern's bullpen. He went undrafted, played independent ball, and eventually latched on with the Royals after an open tryout. He's moved up the ladder slowly, but now steadily since, exceeding expectations every step of the way.
"I feel like my entire career has been a less-than-one-percent happening," Hayes said. "I keep operating in that less-than-one-percent. Signing, lasting more than a year, the chances of all of that has been less than one percent. I think my odds of getting drafted are more than one percent, but I've been operating in that one percent for so long, there's nothing to stop me now."
One thing that could is conventional wisdom. Hayes won't light up a radar gun: His blog was called "Disco Hayes" because he throws in the 70s, rather relying on movement and location to get hitters out. Teams, by and large, still like the big arms that provide plenty of velocity. In recent years, teams have taken pitchers like Donnie Veal (Pirates, 2008) and Joakim Soria (Royals, 2006) in the Rule 5 Draft for that very reason. But those teams were not contenders and could take the chance on the big arm in the hopes it would pan out. A team looking to win, on the other hand, might be looking for a surer bet.
"A lot of times at the big league level, you're not looking for a projectable guy anymore," Ziegler said. "You're not looking for a guy throwing 96 mph without command. They're taken by guys who don't think they'll be contending.
"I thought it was a lower risk with me and I hoped a contender would take a shot."
That's the cautionary tale for Hayes, that even if the above logic makes sense, there's every chance he'll head back to Kansas City. The hope comes in what Ziegler did after the fact. Add that to the resumes of fellow artisans like Bradford and one-time Rule 5 pick Darren O'Day, and Hayes can have some optimism that his skill set is growing in favor.
"That helps your chances," Hayes said about Ziegler's stunning debut. "Emotionally, it pulls you both ways. One, you're excited, your craft gets exposure, maybe people will take it more seriously. On the other hand, you think, 'Jeez, that's not fair, he'd only been doing it for a year. Get in line. I've been doing it for longer than that.'"
All joking aside, the success of other submariners can do nothing but help guys like Hayes, whether it's on Thursday or in the future. Truth be told, those who throw like Hayes and Ziegler are still kind of seen as outliers, exceptions to the norm.
Teams willing to look outside of the box might be more willing to take a chance on a "gimmick" pitcher, as Ziegler put it. Looking at the statistical evidence would help, though Ziegler had been lights out in the second half of the 2007 season and still wasn't selected.
There are three basic categories stats-minded folks will look at more often than not when it comes to pitching: strikeout rate, walk rate and home run rate. Hayes will be dismissed by some because he does not perform well in that first category.
But he excels in the latter two. Over his career, the 26-year-old has walked 56 in 288 2/3 innings for a BB/9 rate of 1.75. In the same time, he's served up only 10 home runs for a miniscule 0.31 HR/9 rate.
"I don't like that you have to think outside of the box to think I can pitch," Hayes said. "I know it's reasonable because that's the culture of baseball. But there are plenty of guys who've done it and done it effectively."
Ziegler obviously doesn't disagree, but he did point out why teams tend to shy away from the submariners in favor of flamethrowers, giving Hayes a hint of what might lie ahead if he does get chosen.
"You notice a big jump in the level of big league hitters. When you do make a mistake, the big league hitters miss it less and less," Ziegler said. "The slower you throw, the longer they have to recognize it. The guys who throw 98 have the tendency to have their mistakes fouled off a little more rather than tattooed into the gap."
Hayes would love to have the chance to see what that's like. He's made a career out of proving people wrong. Whether it's with a new team or back with the Royals, he's looking forward to continuing to push that envelope, wherever it may take him.
"I'd love to be on the 40-man and in the big leagues," Hayes said. "But at the same time, when I was a senior in college, undrafted, if someone had told me that in 2010 I'd go to Spring Training, but not on the 40-man roster, I'd have been thrilled with that. Over the years, the expectations may change, but that doesn't mean it's any less exciting. It'd be nice to be taken, but I wouldn't be upset with the opportunity to go back.
"It's an exciting position to be in. When I was in A ball, playing in Beloit in front of eight people when it was eight degrees, that's not a whole lot of fun. But I bet I was having more fun than anyone because of the odds. Everyone is dreaming of making it to the big leagues. I try to remind myself of that often, step off the mound and think, 'Who would've thought this?'"
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.