Yankees’ Tyler Austin Breaks Out

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.




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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

15 Responses to “Yankees’ Tyler Austin Breaks Out”

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  1. SicilianLou says:

    So what your saying is the HR really don’t impress you but your concern with the K to BB ratio?.. Ok.. maybe its me, but have you seen this kid play?.. I live in SC where the Riverdogs play and until you see what we all see down here, as the saying goes, seeing is believeing.. This kid is not only gifted but Mature beyond most kids playing in A ball. Did you know he was a cancer vitcim and over came this?.. In single A ball most pitchers are not allowed to throw curve balls due to the strain on the elbow. Maybe your right, he might not fair well to an offspeed pitch but when he hits it, SEE YA!!.. LONG GONE. No one really can predict the outcome of what a prospect can achieve. if so, I hate to think what you guys might have thought about Donnie Baseball.. I suggest, come out to the ball park and see for youself what this kid is made of before the Tampa Yankees call him up after the ASL June 16th All star game. Then lets you and I have a chat about his potential!..

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    • Brian S. says:

      Mike Newman is a professional scout that has been watching games in Charleston all year. And what does Don Mattingly have to do with anything?

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      • Steve says:

        I find it is usually best to just ignore folks whose grasp of spelling and grammar pale in comparison to a middle school student. Once Lou can get some basic writing skills down then we can talk about baseball analysis.

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      • SicilianLou says:

        What does Mattingly have to do with his?..I heard the same knock about Mattingly as Mike is saying about Taylor. Not enough speed to play the OF, not athletic enough to make it as a full time player. The one thing that stats dont meassure is the drive and determination a person has to succeed. Given Tyler’s ability to overcome his past illness and continue to devote his life to playing a game he loves tells me, he is miles ahead of the curve than most are at his level. I hope this answers your question?.

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      • Mike Newman says:

        Brian S.,

        Thanks for the defense, but let me be clear that I’m not a professional scout. I’ve been in and around the game most of my life and have been fortunate the past 3-4 years to have made some connections in the industry who have supported me and helped me improve a great deal. So while I’m not a professional scout, I do feel the information provided to readers is similar to what a scout would write.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      SicilianLou,

      I do go to the park… quite a bit actually and this is the 4th season I’ve been doing so. The video accompanying the piece was taking by me when watching Austin in person. If you are not familiar with my work in general, I really don’t write or discuss players I haven’t seen personally.

      To answer your questions… Yes, I did know Austin was a cancer survivor which makes his story that much more interesting. What’s also interesting is that your defense of Austin revolves around his bat and being mature for his age which I touch on as positives. I also compare him to Ludwick who has a career 109 wRC+ which leaves him an above average MLB hitter for his career. That IS considering Austin a future big leaguer at a level in which 98% of guys never make it.

      I think the disconnect comes from the expectation that all good prospects become stars which is simply not the case. To project Austin as a quality big leaguer at this point is huge praise, but I’m not about to call him a star level player at this point in time. His projection simply does not support it.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Lou, Ryan Ludwick had an ALL-STAR season at the MLB level and was a starter for four-plus seasons where he hit 103 home runs and averaged 20+ home runs per season during that time.

      Plus, I grew up in NYC during Mattingly’s prime years. Comping Austin to Mattingly simply holds no weight. At 19 in the Sally, Mattingly batted .358/.422/.498 and struck out only 33 times in 569 plate appearances. Austin has struck out 40 times in 30% of the plate appearances and is a year older.

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  2. Brian says:

    Lou,

    I too have seen him play, and I think Newman nails it in his analysis above… just saying…

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    • SicilianLou says:

      Brian.. Opinions vary.. I think a talent like Tyler you simply find a postion that helps the parent club win.. And if Mikes opinion is the kid is not fast enough to play the OF that’s fine. But there are plenty of ML OF today who dont have speed playing the OF and are playing becasue they can hit. Not ever prospect will have 5 tools. Tylers gift may not be speed but what he has between his ears will get him far in the ML one day..

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      • Mike Newman says:

        SicilianLou,

        I think you might want to take a deep breath, count to 10, and give the piece a second read. You are literally misinterpreting every point I’ve tried to make in this piece.

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  3. Samuel says:

    It is amazing how little Tyler Austin’s head moves when he swings, one of the obvious keys to his success so far. Also uses his lower half well, which helps generate that power. I have no issues with him having the same swing on every pitch, it shows consistency, which is what you want for all hitters. Similar to how Michael Young of Texas hits, same swing every time. I also like the catcher’s reaction after one of Austin’s hits. He just stays in his crouch, then glances over to the dugout as if to ask “how do we get this guy out?”

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Samuel,

      I think you are mistaking repeatable hitting mechanics with the one plane swing I describe. Mike Young is able to make adjustments mid-pitch and handle breaking balls away, fastballs up, etc. No player has an outside shot at 3,000 hits without an uncanny ability for bat control. Austin with a bit of a one plane swing means he doesn’t really adjust the bat head for contact. If a pitcher throws something in his wheelhouse, he’s going to mash it. If not, he will struggle to fight it off at this point.

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  4. fishjam25 says:

    Great breakdown Mike. His hands are very impressive as you mentioned. They give him seemingly effortless bat speed and explosion. His short stride allows him to keep his eyes on one even plane leading to a lot of hard contact. I think more advanced pitchers will start to crowd him with Fastballs & Sinkers running in on his hands since he clearly likes to extend his arms and drive to all fields. However, he looks like he has the flexability/ability to clear his hips and turn on pitches if he’s being attacked that way.

    Now that his reputation is getting around, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to more breaking pitches. I interviewed Tyler about 2 weeks ago and he mentioned pitchers had already changed their approach against him with more offspeed stuff in fastball counts. If anyone’s interested, here’s that interview:

    http://yankeesfansunite.com/2012/05/10/yfu-exclusive-interview-with-tyler-austin/

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  5. E-Dub says:

    I watched the video last and I’m a little less worried about the swing than I expected based on the report. He really lets the ball travel and has the bat speed that allows that. He doesn’t have some grooved uppercut of a swing, instead lining a lot of balls off that plane, which makes me more sanguine that the contact ability is legit. Gets his front foot down early, clears his hips correctly, doesn’t get caught out front. Your point is taken, and I don’t think he’s a hitting prodigy, but there’s more to like with the swing than not. I think Ludwick is a very reasonable comp, though Austin could peak earlier and longer and it’s doubtful that he’ll be as good a defender as Ludwick who plays above his tools thanks to great instincts and routes.

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  6. Ken Hauser says:

    No disrespect at all, but even professional scouts, which Mr. Newman is admittedly not, really have no idea whether a kid will turn into a major league star or not. Especially A ball players. They give it their best educated guess. But that is all it is. Trust me when I say their projections are off well over half the time.

    So take it with a grain of salt. It’s far from an exact science.

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