During the NFL playoffs on Sunday afternoon, Tyler Austin wasn’t spending time in a living room or at a local bar — he was beginning his second workout of the day.
The 25-year-old, who made his major league debut with the Yankees last August, has his eyes set on the team’s vacancy at first base, and hasn’t one reason to play second fiddle next season.
“I’m not going into this settling for a backup role,” Austin told NJ Advance Media in a phone interview.
With the departure of veteran Mark Teixeira, who announced his retirement in 2016, the starting gig at the corner bag will be made available in New York for the first time since 2009, and with an abundance of young infielders on the current roster, both Austin and Greg Bird appear to be the finalists who will battle for the job when the team reports to Tampa, Fla. for spring training in February.
Since the regular season’s end, Austin has primarily focused on improving his footwork and agility at first base. At the beginning of his career, Austin was a corner infielder, but injuries and inconsistencies led to him becoming a full-time first baseman, where he’s played the last two years.
Austin also spent 10 days at the Yankees’ training complex in Tampa with fielding coordinator Jody Reed, and is reportedly staying there for the duration of the offseason starting next week.
In his two-month rookie stint, Austin hit five home runs, including one that landed in the right field seats in his first at-bat. But his hitting woes quickly surfaced after 90 total plate appearances, finishing with 36 strikeouts and a .241 batting average.
Austin admitted to flaws in his plate approach, as he had hoped to impress coaches with power instead of contact early on.
“My head was flying out, swinging at everything — in and out of the zone,” Austin said. “That’s not me. That was just me trying to hit a home run every time up and trying to pull anything I could. When I’m right, I can hit the ball out of the park using all parts of the field.”
Since the Yankees accumulated a bevy of top prospects last July, Austin has seen his name move up and down lists of the team’s top prospects. He’s aware of the challenges and competition that awaits, and as of late, hearing the doubts of his potential have been much needed motivation.
“Looking at the last few years for me, they’ve been tough,” Austin said. “The past year has been a lot different. It’s just been tough knowing I’m a better player than (the statistics) I’ve put up. It definitely motivates me to be the best I can be and get better every day. When I get tired in my workouts, I think about all of that and I end up working out longer than I even planned.”