Tyler Austin was originally drafted by the Yankees as a high school catcher in the 13th round of the 2010 draft. He’s since made his way down the defensive spectrum, moving to third base and then to right field, where he’s played almost exclusively the last two seasons. As a 13th round pick, Austin was by no means a blue-chip prospect. Nonetheless, by putting up crooked offensive numbers from the get-go, he soon became one of the most promising prospects in the Yankees' system. Across 47 games in the low minors in 2011, Austin hit an impressive .354/.418/.579. His hot hitting continued in 2012 when he hit .332/.400/.459, mostly in A-ball. Additionally, despite his lackluster speed, he managed to swipe 41 bases in 43 attempts in 167 games between 2011 and 2012.
Trenton (AA): 83 G, 366 PA, .257/.344/.373, 17 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 4 SB, 0 CS, 79 K, .333 wOBA, 103 wRC+
In 2013 however, Austin experienced his first taste of adversity as he advanced to Double-A Trenton. A bone bruise on his right wrist limited him to just 85 games and he didn't perform particularly well when on the field, only mustering a .257/.344/.373 batting line. The most concerning part of Austin’s 2013 campaign was that his power basically disappeared. About 6% of Austin’s plate appearances resulted in an extra-base hit in 2013 compared to 12% in 2011 and 2012.
Austin clearly took a step back in 2013, but his wrist injury probably contributed to his struggles. It’s also worth noting that while his power fell off a cliff, his strikeout and walk numbers were on par with his 2012 stats. I would put more stock in those numbers for two reasons: 1) They are not as fluky as power numbers in small samples and 2) are probably less likely to be influenced by his wrist injury.
2014 should be a telling year for Austin. It will be up to him to prove if his tepid 2013 campaign was a result of his wrist injury, or if his body of work in the low minors was an aberration. Austin might break camp with the Trenton Thunder again, but he will probably find his way to Triple-A Scranton before long. If things go well, he may even push for playing time in the Yankees' outfield before the year is out. But 2015 seems like a more likely ETA, especially considering the Yankees have plenty of outfield depth on the 40-man roster.
As a corner outfielder who doesn’t run particularly well, Austin’s near the bottom of the defensive spectrum, meaning he’ll need to hit to have any sort of prolonged big league career. Mike Newman of FanGraphs compared Austin to Ryan Ludwick -- not the sexiest of comparisons, but still a solid big leaguer. This comp feels about right to me if Austin can recoup a good chunk the power he showed two years ago. Otherwise, he’s probably nothing more than a platoon or bench player going forward.
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