At age-26, and ranked as the team’s No. 14 prospect, Tyler Austin may be running out of opportunities in the Bronx.
Austin was drafted in the 13th round of the 2010 Amateur Draft, and debuted in 2016 (hitting the first of back-to-back home runs with Aaron Judge). He came up as part of the youth movement that captivated the league once the Yankees decided to become sellers at the deadline. Greg Bird was hurt, Mark Teixeira was retiring and Austin had his best chance to nail down the job.
He seemed primed to compete with the returning Bird for the starting first base job in Spring Training. Disaster struck next. On Feb. 17, 2017, Austin fractured the navicular area of his left foot, and was placed on the 60-day disabled list. The Yankees then signed veteran Chris Carter to a 1-year deal, and we know how well that turned out.
Austin dropped deep on the first base depth chart while injured. It took the team three weeks to promote him after his rehab assignment ended. His stock dropped so much that Carter and Matt Holliday started over him in those three weeks.
Despite hitting .300 after his rehab assignment ended, Austin struggled to a .154/.200/.385 line in four games before injuring his right hamstring. He missed a month, and found himself back in the minor leagues because the Yankees acquired Garrett Cooper from the Milwaukee Brewers. Cooper himself got hurt in August, and Austin returned.
He homered against Boston’s Chris Sale August 19, which endeared him to Yankees fans again. But, his future became uncertain after the 2017 season ended. The Yankees could have traded him to open an important 40-man roster spot for a younger player. But, they decided to trade Cooper instead. Austin’s defensive versatility and career .361/.432/.722 against left-handed pitching most likely extended his Yankee tenure.
Now, Austin has full control of his own destiny. With games at first base, third base, left field and right field on his résumé, he will be competing with Chase Headley to be a backup corner infielder and right-handed platoon bat. Austin has a better defensive reputation than Headley, and the former can play at more positions. But, Headley is owed $13 million in 2018, and Austin has one more minor league option remaining.
It feels like Austin will have to wow his way onto the Yankees 2018 roster. His spot on the roster will rely on strong defense and good at-bats against left-handers. If he cannot do that, then we will not see much of him in the Bronx