TRENTON, NJ – Tyler Austin, a big grin on his face, offered a handshake.
“Haven’t talked to you in awhile,” said the still 22-year-old native from Conyers, Ga., who was taken by the Yankees in the 13th round of the 2010 selections and signed by scout Darryl Monroe. “How are things? As for me, I really feel I am in a good place right now.”
That is good to hear from Austin – not to mention his play of late confirms that. Heading into the 2013 season, Austin, off a s campaign in which he hit a combined .322 (133-for-413) with four teams, hammering 17 homers with 80 RBIs and and OPS of .960, was listed with Ramon Flores and Slade Heathcott in a prospect-laden Double-A outfield in Trenton.
Some were predicting a quick move to Triple–A Scranton and possibly the Yankees by the end of the season. It didn’t happen. Austin fell off the fast-track with a wrist injury. His power was suddenly gone, as he struggled for almost a month with. By the time he told Thunder and Yankees officials of the wrist – after just 23 extra-base hits in 363 plate appearances, he was sidelined for a month-and-a-half.
His 2013 regular-season statistics showed a .265 average (86-for-325) with just six homers.
“It wasn’t my best time,” he admitted.
Things seemed back on track in the Eastern League playoffs, in which he hit .304 and propelled the Thunder to an Eastern League Championship. He is remembered for calling out Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard in the first game of the EL semifinals vs. Binghamton and proceeding to back it up with a trio of RBIs in the contest.
“I thought everything was going to be fine at that point,” said Austin. “It turned out it wasn’t.”
Four games into the Arizona Fall League season, with his wrist again hurting, Austin was shut down and treated with a cortisone shot. He returned to Trenton for 2014 – Flores advanced to Scranton and Heathcott has hardly played due to a knee that required additional surgery – and began to a hopeful journey back to form..
His first half was nothing special. In the field, he played both right field and first base mostly. Since the All-Star Break, however, things began falling back into place. Heading into Friday night’s Trenton game at Bowie, Austin is hitting .280 (104-for-372), with nine homers and 46 RBIs in 99 games.
In his last 10, Austin is 10-for-37, a .324 clip.
His quick, compact swing has returned. He is hitting the ball hard. The wrist appears healed, putting Austin back into the picture for a start at Scranton in 2015 and, if it all goes well, perhaps an appearance in The Bronx late in the season.
He’s also been able to put good wood on breaking pitches he’s had trouble with in the past.
“Really I’m not thinking of anything in the past, just what’s ahead,” he said. “I know what went on, because I went through it. I’m doing things to stay healthy and am really getting excited about what ios ahead.
When healthy, Austin has a power bat. He’s starting to show that again. The key is his performance is getting stronger as the season goes on.
Don’t write Tyler Austin as a valuable Yankees prospect off yet. He certainly appears to be back.