It was announced on Sunday that the Yankees and Brett Gardner agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with a fifth-year club option and a buyout for 2019. With Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury (and Carlos Beltran) set to anchor the outfield for the foreseeable future, what does this mean for the likes of the Yankees' outfield prospects?
The Gardner news probably impacts guys like Mason Williams, Ramon Flores, and, perhaps, Slade Heathcott the most. Williams and Flores are more known for their ability to get on base, steal bases, and play good defense in the outfield than they are about their power. You can say the same about Heathcott, too, but compared to Williams and Flores, at least he has potential to hit for some more power as he ages. However, with Gardner and Ellsbury locked up for the years ahead, it appears as though the team doesn't have much of a need for a third speed/defense-first outfielder, but instead could use more of a power bat in right field.
This is where Tyler Austin comes in. Austin, like a lot of Yankee prospects, had a down 2013. He hit .257/.344/.373 in 83 games at Double-A with only six home runs and a paltry .116 ISO. The lack of power could be attributed to the wrist injury he suffered in the middle of last year and/or the fact that Double-A is a tough league, especially for someone like Austin who was just 21 years of age.
After a winter of resting his wrist, Austin saw the it flare up just last week and is said to be shutdown for the next few days. Chad Jennings of LoHud saw Austin on Sunday and noticed that he had his wrist wrapped up. At the same time, Austin was seen shagging fly balls on Sunday, so perhaps he's getting closer to hitting again.
Despite the lack of power in 2013, Austin still projects as a guy who can hit for power down the road. He'll probably never be a 35+ home run masher, but if he turns into a 20 home run guy with plenty of doubles, that'll do just fine as well. For now, Austin will have to prove that 2013 was just a bump in the road and not a sign of things to come, while Beltran (attempts to) hold down right field at the big league level. Either way, Austin's 2014 is a pretty big season for him.
In regards to Williams, Flores, and Heathcott? I'm not sure what exactly their futures hold. Personally, I just don't see the Yankees using a third speed/defense-first outfielder with Gardner and Ellsbury locked up. Obviously, not every member of this aforementioned trio will reach their ceiling, let alone make the big leagues altogether. But, say someone like Mason Williams has a big 2014. His stock fell quite a bit last year, but if he rebounds, especially at the Double-A level, he could regain the prospect status he lost last season. If he does that, he would set himself up as a pretty nice trade chip down the road. Even if there isn't an obvious future for several of the Yankees' outfield prospects, it's still important that they succeed in the minors so they could, at the very least, provide some nice, cheap depth at the upper levels of the system.