TRENTON, NJ – The back-to-back big-league debut home runs by first baseman Tyler Austin and right fielder Aaron Judge Saturday afternoon in Yankee Stadium were celebrated in the crowd, in the dugout and in the Trenton Thunder clubhouse.
Members of the Yankees’ Double-A farm team, who shared a clubhouse with Austin for the first 50 games in 2016, were ecstatic over just seeing their former teammate in Pinstripes.
“With Judge and Austin, it’s really gratifying to see those guys go up, and for what they did for the first time ever,” said Trenton manager Bobby Mitchell before this team’s 8-2 win over New Hampshire Saturday night. “The room really went crazy. We were all cheering.
“Everyone was happy with what they did.”
In Austin’s case, Mitchell and his players were especially pleased, as they saw Austin, who was DFA at the end of last season, battle his way back to prospect status and the Yankees’ 25-man roster Saturday.
The Thunder skipper knows what changed.
“I didn’t know Tyler until Spring Training,” said Mitchell. “We had some moves when guys came down from the big-league club and Tyler was put on our team. I know, coming back to Double-A could be disappointing and I said that to him.
“He told me no problem, let’s just win the championship. I’ll take a guy like that anytime.”
Austin then went to work with former Thunder catcher PJ Pilittere, now in his second season as the club’s hitting coach, modifying his approach at the plate. One change in the development process under Yankees Vice President of Player Development Gary Denbo is each prospect in the system has been given an individual process to follow.
Pilittere, whom Austin credited in a YES postgame interview with helping put him on the road to the majors, has done excellent work with the Thunder batters.
“PJ worked hard with Tyler,” said Mitchell. “His approach changed more to hitting the ball the other way. It keeps him on the ball. That hit he had to right field (in the Yankees’ 8-4 win over Tampa Bay) was off a beautiful swing, just how you teach it.
“He’s stayed with that approach and has made such great strides. He has learned to relax at the plate.”
This was practiced each day, both with the Thunder and at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where Austin broke out, batting .323 (65-for-201) with 13 honers and 49 RBIs in 57 games,
“When Tyler was here, we took him in into the cage early. He followed his routine, and I’m sure he did that with the Yankees today.”
Austin is hitting the ball with power as he last did in 2012, when he had 17 home runs. He fought a lingering wrist injury the last few seasons that also frustrated him.
“You can’t really hit for power with a weak wrist,” said Mitchell. “He was on the roster, off the roster, sent down. This is nice to see.
“He’s a strong kid. He looks healthy now.”
Shortstop Tyler Wade, who had a single double and leadoff home run in the Thunder’s win Saturday night, had his tweets about Austin and Judge mentioned on the YES broadcast as well.
“You always pull for a guy like that,” Wade said of Austin. “Tyler is one of our teammates. This shows how close we are. It also shows how hard work pays off.
“Everybody in this clubhouse has the potential to play in the majors. It shows we’re not that far away.”
Judge and Austin made MLB history Saturday afternoon. Their accomplishments thrilled many on several levels.
“What an exciting day,” said Wade with big smile.”
It certainly was.