A name as hot as any in the Yankees’ minor league system right now is Tyler Austin. Born in Macon, Georgia, Austin went on to play for Heritage High School, located near Atlanta. After a stellar senior season, Baseball America ranked him as the 24th prospect in the Peach State and forecast that he could be taken as early as the 4th round in the 2010 MLB Draft. The Yankees were fortunate that he was still on the board when they selected him in the 13th round, giving Austin the chance to sign with his favorite team.
2010 turned out to be a very difficult year for Austin, but his resilience in the face of great trials echoed a character trait familiar to the Yankee family. Prior to the 2010 Draft, at the age of 17, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, but he courageously battled the disease, overcoming it in time for rookie ball with the Gulf Coast League Yankees. However, just two games into his 2010 season, his wrist was broken on an inside pitch, prematurely ending his year. Undeterred by the devastating setback, Austin worked tirelessly to return for the 2011 season and did not disappoint.
Austin bolted out of the gates when the season began in late-June, hitting a torrid .390/.438/.622 in 20 games with the Gulf Coast Yankees. He was promptly promoted to the low single-A Staten Island Yankees where he hit .323/.402/.542 in 27 games (the 2nd-highest batting average on the team), helping the Yanks to a league title. His eye-catching .354/.418/.579 line in 2011 gave him his first blip on the Yankee radar as he was ranked the Yankees’ #20 prospect following the season. In 201 plate appearances in 2011 he had 18 doubles, 2 triples, and 6 home runs and was a perfect 18 for 18 on stolen base attempts, earning him the rank of 8th-best prospect in the New York-Penn League.
In 2012 Austin was poised for a breakout year and he did not disappoint. He spent just two games with the Gulf Coast Yankees where he batted .500 with a home run and 2 RBIs before being promoted to Charleston in single-A ball. In 70 games with the River Dogs he batted .320/.405/.598 and showed a surge of power with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs, while swiping 17 bags in 19 attempts. He was named the South Atlantic League Player of the Week in early April, and was tabbed an SAL Mid-Season All-Star before being promoted to the single-A+ Tampa Yankees where he kept his bat hot despite facing better pitching. In 36 games he hit .321/.385/.478 with 2 homers and 23 RBIs. September call-ups from the Big Club sent a ripple effect through the system, giving Austin a chance to move up to double-A Trenton where he manned first base for the Thunder during their playoff run. After a tremendous sophomore season he was named the #4 prospect in the Yankee organization.
Austin even caught the attention of GM Brian Cashman who said of the prospect last August, “He just catapulted himself up the prospect list with what he did down in Charleston and obviously carried it up into Tampa. He has to have the high mark, he was a prospect, but now he’s made himself a mega-prospect.” It may not be long before Austin is manning right field in Yankee Stadium and kicking up dust on the base paths.
Tyler was kind enough to answer a few questions during his busy offseason.
* * * * *
Who was your baseball hero growing up?
Every boy dreams of playing pro baseball. At what point did you think that becoming a Major League player was a realistic dream?
After my freshman year of high school.
At age 17 you were diagnosed with testicular cancer. How has that trial impacted you as a person and as a player?
It has made me appreciate every single day. I’ve learned not take anything for granted and to live every day like its my last! It has also influenced the way I approach baseball. I always “leave it all out on the field,” as they say, and strive everyday to do and get better.
Your favorite team was the Yankees, so what did it mean to you when they drafted you in 2010?
Honestly, it was so surreal! As soon as I found out I was going to have a chance to play for the New York Yankees, I started crying. My mom was crying, even dad (which was powerful because I had only seen him cry once or twice before). I felt honored and blessed. It was a childhood dream come true.
In only your 2nd game in the Yankee organization, your wrist was broken on an inside pitch. In 2011 you were a monster at the plate. How did you return from such a huge setback to have the kind of year you did?
Man, honestly I worked really hard to come back from the injury. I believe God has a plan for me and I just had to prove myself and do evenbetter once my wrist was healed all the way.
You have played at a number of positions during your time in the Yankee system: 1B, 3B, RF. Do you have a preference?
I honestly don’t mind where I play. Wherever they put me I’m gonna play each and every play to the best of my ability, and have fun doing it. And I also really enjoy the challenges that come with learning how to play different positions. And I am happy to help my team in any spot on the field they need me in.
What is your greatest strength and what are you looking to improve on as a player?
I believe my biggest strength is my ability to make adjustments at the plate pitch to pitch. I also believe that every part of my game needs to improve.
You had a big year in 2012. You put up some serious numbers at Charleston before being promoted to Tampa, then AA Trenton. You also were the recipient of the MiLBY Reward for Breakout Prospect of the Year and Cashman called you a “mega-prospect.” What have you been doing this off-season to ensure 2013 is another big step forward for you?
I really worked hard this offseason to make sure that I am in the best position to have another successful season. I worked harder than I ever have.
If you had a chance to replicate any moment in Yankee history, which one would you choose?
To hit 3 home runs in one game in the playoffs just like Reggie Jackson did.
Being in right field at Yankee Stadium carries with it a lot of responsibility—you are the closest to the Bleacher Creatures. Swisher had the salute. What will your Roll Call move be?
I honestly haven’t put to much thought into that! I guess I’ll have to come up with something between now and when I get up there.
Well good luck this season, Tyler. You’ve got some big fans here at Bronx Pinstripes.