With 13 home runs and a 1.032 OPS entering today’s action, it’s safe to say Yankees outfield prospect Tyler Austin has officially broken out. Considering the Georgia native opened the season as arguably the eighth best prospect on his own team, the fact his home run output nearly equals the sum total of his teammates has prospect followers and Yankees fans alike excited. Current chatter even includes dreams of Austin, along with top-100 teammate Mason Williams forming two-thirds of the Bronx Bombers’ outfield of the future.
Video after the jump
But is all perfect in Tyler Austin’s prospect world? While his season has been a resounding success, a number of questions surrounding his all-around game will need to be put to rest for prospect mavens to feel comfortable inserting him into their respective top-100′s. What position will Austin play? How is he against off-speed pitches? Will his present in game speed translate at the major league level? While age and power play to his favor, other considerations not found in his stat line will go a long way in determining his value as a prospect.
At the plate, Austin put on the best offensive display of any player seen in person at the minor league level. Showing power to all fields, Austin belted two “no doubters” including a towering shot to straightaway right field on a fastball out over the plate. His second home run was a hard line drive pulled down the left field line which left the park in no time. It was an impressive display of raw power, but when Austin followed that performance with a four-hit effort the following night, it was obvious the right fielder was about to burst onto the prospect radar.
Austin’s powerful swing starts with extremely strong hands which allow for easy bat speed and an advanced ability to generate lift for his age. The 20-year old is at his best when able to extend on balls middle out, but struggled some with balls in on the hands. This is a common trait amongst hitting prospects at the level as I’ve previously made identical statements about other top prospects in Blue Jays catcher Travis D’Arnaud and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.
And while Austin was able to pulverize fastballs, one is forced to wonder how he will adjust to off-speed pitches. His swing is more one plane at this point meaning Austin takes a similar cut at every pitch whether it’s high, low, or belt high leading to strikeout totals which are borderline worrisome. This may be due to some perceived stiffness through his shoulders. But after seeing Will Middlebrooks surface as a power threat in Boston after doing his best Mr. Roboto impression when scouting him in 2009, I’m much less worried about that particular trait than I used to be.
On social media, I’ve received many questions about Austin playing third base as he has made a rather precipitous drop down the defensive spectrum from his days as a high school catcher. For those out there with fingers crossed the hot corner is in Austin’s future, there’s really no need to keep hope alive. His stolen base success has prospect followers under the impression Austin is more athletic than he actually is. If anything, Austin will slide down the spectrum further before all is said and done. This obviously means his bat will have to carry him to the Bronx.
In terms of speed, Austin’s 26 steals in 27 attempts (96% success) going back to 2011 is one of the most perplexing stats I’ve ever tried to wrap my head around. In game action, I clocked Austin at a 4.6 to first base with him pulling up the last few steps. Had he run through the bag, maybe that time becomes a 4.4 or 4.45 which still leaves Austin a present 35/40 on the 20/80 scale which is below average. Austin is unlikely to maintain his stolen base ability as he continues to move through the system, but his success at picking spots points to a high baseball IQ.
While writing this, Kevin McReynolds popped into my head as his reeling off 35/36 in stolen base attempts between 1987 and 1988 was one of the more memorable streaks of my childhood growing up a Mets fan. If one can remember how meticulous McReynolds was in picking his spots, it becomes easier to understand Austin having similar success against lesser defenders behind the dish.
When working on a comp for Tyler Austin using his current peripherals (9% BB, 23% K) and making the simple assumption he will carry those through to the big league level (easier said than done), I noticed most right-handed outfielders with a limited amount of athleticism and similar peripherals took time to establish themselves at the big league level. Ryan Ludwick is the best example of this as he debuted at 23 only to bounce around organizations before earning a starting gig and eventual all-star appearance at 28 with the Cardinals.
This isn’t to say Austin will take the same path, but Ludwick’s career triple slash line of .259/.331/.453 is similar to what a contact projected recently. Additionally, his 8.6% walk rate and 22.6% strikeout rate is nearly identical to what Austin’s current rates. Of course prospect followers excited about Tyler Austin would be disappointed by this outcome, but it’s important to view him through the appropriate lens. The New York Yankees have a potential above average big leaguer whom they drafted in the 13th round. Not many organizations can say that.