Tyler Austin ended 2012 being named the Yankees ‘Minor League Player of the Year’, after level-jumping four times, with a two-game stint for Double-A Trenton. He began this year in Double-A and, while he’s had some difficulties, he’s adjusted well and shown more of what was so impressive in the lower level leagues.
The rightfielder has produced at the plate with 59 hits this season. In earlier games this season, he had a tendency to want to pull the ball, but in a game on June 11th, he tried to use all parts of the field, although he was stopped by a strong Binghamton Mets infield. Still, the promise of what he’s capable was clear. He scorched a two-out single to center, and with his excellent speed he might’ve been able to turn it into a double. Another ball was smoked to left-field, but was caught. In that at-bat he allowed the ball to get in close, and with his quick hands and impressive bat speed got to the ball in the zone fast.
He also displayed his aggressive two-strike approach. At times, that can hurt him (his second at-bat) other times it’s to his advantage (single to center). With 56 strikeouts already this season (4th of all current Thunder players), he’s on pace to exceed his 98 K’s in 2012. But he’s also working walks, with 33 through 57 games, compared to last season when he drew 51 over 110 games.
In the seventh, with the Thunder down two runs, he had an opportunity after Slade Heathcott doubled. He wasn’t selective, swinging at the first pitch he saw, and with the count 1-1, swung again. He fouled off the next two, and, with two strikes, and the count full, he took a tentative swing to strike out. However, he’s been a big run producer, driving in runners at an excellent clip as he’s descended through the system. He’s leading the Thunder with 34 RBI, and finished 2012 with 80 RBI, third overall of all Yankees minor leaguers.
His solid fielding and aforementioned excellent speed were showcased as well. And while the word grit can be overused in baseball, there’s no other way to describe Austin’s style of play. When a ball was hit deep, he and Heathcott collided trying to get to it. Austin caught the ball and hung onto it. Lean and muscular, he has tremendous agility at his position and gets excellent jumps on the ball. He’ll make a play that looks too difficult, like the one at the warning track, taking opportunities away from a team, even when he’s struggling to create one at the plate.
Speed on the basepaths didn’t help him a lot that game, but it has and will continue to. His attempt to leg out a ball hit to the third base side was impressive, though his stolen base attempts are way down so far this season, with just three.
He looked sometimes like he was trying too hard for the big hit, pushing for power in the hopes of tying it up, but when he trusted his ability to make solid contact with the ball and used his strength, he came through. He’s a solid defender, and the most complete hitter and the most advanced bat on that Thunder squad, perhaps even of all Yankees prospects.
Jessica has provided minor league baseball coverage for Baseball Digest, Gotham Baseball Magazine, Pirates Prospects, Project Prospect, The Binghamton Bulletin, The Trentonian, The Worcester Telegram, and her blog 'High Heels On The Field'. She's covered MLB for MLB.com and Junior Baseball Magazine, for which she's regular contributed for seven years. Follow her on Twitter @heelsonthefield