A Brief History of Tyler Austin

Tyler Austin will replace Alex Rodriguez on the Yankee roster. Presumably, he will spend time at 1st Base and Right Field. I've been a fan of Tyler Austin for a long time. What follows is his underdog story.

The Yankees drafted Tyler Austin out of high school in the 13th round in 2010. Almost immediately, he made an impression. Austin hit .354/.418/.579 in the shortseason leagues in 2011. He stole 18 bases without being caught, and played by all accounts a very strong outfield. He gained the reputation as a guy with strong baseball instincts but not a lot of athleticism. 

The concern with Austin was always that he was a "tweener" - not enough bat for a corner position, not enough speed for center field. More broadly, scouts were concerned that his strong makeup and baseball instincts allowed his so-so tools to play up in the low minors, but wouldn't provide much of a competitive advantage in the major leagues. 

The legend continued in 2012. Austin hit .322/.400/.559 between Low-A and High-A, and started to generate real prospect buzz. Baseball America rated him the #77 prospect in baseball. His 2013 season was much anticipated, but he spent most of hampered by a serious wrist injury. That began three straight seasons of okay baseball, where Austin posted wRC+s of 103, 110, and 128 in three partial Double-A seasons. Triple-A was not so kind in 2015 however, and Austin earned his release (he was on the 40-man roster) after the season. The Yankees resigned him for 2016.

What has followed has been vintage Tyler Austin. He started off with a pretty typical 117 wRC+ at Double-A, and earned his promotion to Scranton. There, he did his best Barry Bonds impression by hitting .323/.415/.637 in 57 games. The promotion to the majors is much deserved. I was about three days away from starting a #FreeTylerAustin campaign.

How good is Austin? This is highly contested. Fangraph's KATOH projection system thinks he is the 100th best prospect in the minors. PECOTA thinks he's a .243/.314/.407 hitter for the rest of 2016, with a pretty wide confidence interval (more variance than normal players. He has a decent shot at all star-level production, decent shot at being worthless). All of this is layered on top of Austin's status as a below-average corner outfielder (the scouts were right) without much of a platoon advantage. Maybe he can play 1st base pretty well.

I've said this a few times on the podcast, but I'll type it out here: the Yankees need to give players like Tyler Austin an extended look. Austin is probably a bench player at best. However, he has demonstrated that he has a real talent for hitting, and can sustain very strong production when he's on. The Yankees won't know what they have in him until they give him a real shot. They gain valuable information either way. A brief look around the league reveals a long list of players who were considered fringe or failed prospects, but were given an extended shot and cemented themselves as major league players. Steve Pearce, Logan Forsythe and Justin Turner all come immediately to mind.