The Yankees announced that they have reinstated Tyler Austin from the 60-day disabled list, and promptly optioned him to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The 25-year-old fractured the navicular area of his left foot on February 17, 2017, during batting practice. He started the season on the 60-day disabled list so that his 40-man roster spot could be given to utility infielder Pete Kozma. Once Kozma was traded to the Texas Rangers, the Yankees never replaced him on the 40-man as they awaited Austin’s return.
The move feels puzzling as the Yankees currently struggle to find production out of the first base position. Manager Joe Girardi had said he wanted Austin to get at least 50 at-bats in the minor leagues because his injury had caused him to miss Spring Training. Through 13 minor league games, Austin has logged 44 at-bats (.341/.396/.545). Perhaps the Yankees want him to get a little more seasoning before bringing him up. Major League roster rules stipulate that the team must wait 10 days before promoting Austin to the major league level unless there is an injury.
Austin can play the corner infield and outfield spots, but was drafted as a catcher in the 13th round of the 2010 draft. He could be an option to help with the first base problem for the Yankees, and then slide over to third base if Chase Headley continues to struggle. Austin had a memorable MLB debut when he and Aaron Judge hit back-to-back home runs in their first big league at-bats.
First base has been an unexpected disaster for the Yankees this season. The team had hoped Greg Bird would return to his 2015 form, when he hit .261 with 11 home runs in a 46 game audition replacing the injured Mark Teixeira. Bird looked the part in Spring Training, hitting a red-hot .451 with eight home runs. But, he went just 6-for-60 to start the year as he was bothered by a bone bruise on his right ankle. He is currently on a rehab assignment with the Class-A Advanced Tampa Yankees.
The other options that Girardi has deployed at first base have simply not been effective. Chris Carter, who led the NL with 41 home runs last season but signed a very late 1-year deal, has been awful. The 30-year-old has struck out in 43% of his at-bats this season, and carries just a .180 average and four home runs.
Rob Refsnyder has gotten limited time at first base this year, logging just eight games. He is hitting .125, albeit in a very small sample size. He puts together better at-bats than Carter, and can make things happen with his versatility and speed. Refsnyder started over Carter in the final two games of the Toronto series, but was pulled in the late innings in favor of tighter defense.
Matt Holliday has also played five games at first base this season, at first just to keep his bat in the lineup at National League ballparks. In 93 career innings at first, he’s made just one error.
There also were reports that the Bombers were working out Aaron Hicks at first base prior to Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion.