Tyler Austin should be a familiar name to anyone who has followed the Yankees' minor league system over the past few years. Selected by the Yankees in the 13th round of the 2010 Draft out of Heritage High School in Georgia, Austin's life was a smashing success long before he became a prospect. Diagnosed at age 17 with testicular cancer, he overcame the adversity and successful underwent treatment. Thankfully, there have been no traces of cancer in his body since then. Scout Darryl Monroe signed him for $130,000 after the Yankees drafted him, and his professional career begun.
After quietly building up stock in Rookie Ball and the short-season New York-Penn League in 2011, Austin exploded in 2012. He was the Yankees' Minor League Player of the Year, as he began the year in Low-A Charleston and ended it on Double-A Trenton's Eastern League playoff team. Austin was tremendous, hitting .322/.400/.559 in 110 games, opening eyes with 35 doubles, 17 homers, and even 23 steals. The breakout year earned him spots on both the Baseball America and MLB.com Top 100 Prospect lists.
Unfortunately, the good vibes of 2012 did not continue into the next year and a half, as an early 2013 wrist injury caused by a bone bruise greatly affected his swing. He thus missed time in 2013 (including the majority of a planned Arizona Fall League stint) and saw his wRC+ fall to an only average 103. Considering the fact that his ceiling didn't give scouts the vibe of a high-potential prospect, his future was a big question mark heading into 2014.
Trenton (AA): 105 G, .275/.336/.419, 20 2B, 9 HR, 80 K, 110 wRC+, 1.0 WARP
The 2014 campaign was certainly a comeback year for Austin in Double-A. His wrist bothered him less and less throughout the season, and he overcame any problems with inexperience that might have also raised concerns in 2013. He spent most of his time in right field but also increased his versatility by playing 19 games at first base. The third base experiment does not appear as though it will lead to anything, but if he could at least add first base to his options in the field, it will help his chances at cracking the majors.
The 34 extra-base hits might not seem flashy at first, but with Yankees Double-A prospects, the ballpark must always be considered. Trenton's Arm & Hammer Park is a nightmare for hitters and Austin's slugging percentage was definitely affected; he slugged just .359 at home with 11 extra-base hits in 54 games. On the road however, he slugged .480 with 23 extra-base hits in 51 games, a much more encouraging sign of power. Then, there was Austin's end-of-season surge: In 33 games after the All-Star Break, he hit .336/.397/.557. With all things considered, 2014 was a very nice year for Austin.
Austin's solid 2014 puts him in good position to begin the year in Triple-A Scranton's outfield. PNC Field should treat him better than Arm & Hammer Park, and it will be intriguing to see how Austin fares against pitchers even closer to the majors. If he can prove to be at least a league-average hitter, then that would certainly put him in a good position to be recalled in case of injury. Since the Yankees are apparently moving forward with the soon-to-be 38-year-old Carlos Beltran in right field, it's a serious possibility. (Austin learning first base should also provide extra Mark Teixeira insurance beyond just Garrett Jones.)
The best guess is that either one of Austin or Ramon Flores would be first in line to be recalled should a Yankees outfielder go down. They're already on the 40-man roster, and adding anyone else would require a roster move. Regardless, 2015 should offer a new challenge for Austin on the doorstep of the majors, and it will be exciting to see how he handles it. He's already overcome one enormous obstacle in life; finally making it to the majors would be the cherry on top. Fingers crossed.