On Tyler Austin and third base

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(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

I wrote this two weeks ago…

I do wonder if the combination of A-Rod’s continued breakdown and Dante Bichette Jr.’s miserable season will make the Yankees consider moving Tyler Austin back to third base. He was drafted as a catcher and moved to third immediately as a pro, but this season the team shifted him to right field in part due to the presence of Bichette at the same level. Austin has the bat for any position and if he can handle the hot corner defensively, it’s something they should seriously consider. At the same time, there’s no much going right with Austin that you don’t want to screw it up by having him change positions yet again.

Chad Jennings reported this two days ago…

This winter, the Yankees at least considered the idea of moving Austin back to third base, but they ultimately decided to keep him in right field for the time being.

“He’s a better defender in right,” vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. “But (putting him back at third) is something we’ve thought about. It’s a possibility.”

Austin, 21, is arguably the team’s best prospect. I don’t think he is, but you can definitely make the argument. He just wrapped up a monster 2012 season, hitting .322/.400/.559 with 17 homers and 23 steals (in 25 chances) while climbing from Low-A Charleston to Double-A Trenton. Although he only has 148 plate appearances with High-A Tampa to his credit, it’s likely Austin will open next season back in Trenton.

The Yankees have an obvious need for a long-term third base solution. Twenty third baseman have posted a 100 wRC+ or better over the last three seasons (min. 1,000 PA), but eight of those guys have since changed positions or retired. There are a lot of teams out there in need of help at the hot corner, which is why Mike Olt has been popular on the trade rumor circuit for roughly a year now. New York’s best hope for a homegrown third baseman right now is probably David Adams, who has 37 career games at the position and profiles far better at second base.

Third base and right field are right next to each other on the defensive spectrum and there isn’t much value to be gained by moving a player from right to third. Maybe the gap on the defensive spectrum is bigger for the Yankees since right field in Yankee Stadium is quite tiny, but I don’t think it makes a huge difference. We’re not talking about moving a guy from left to catcher or from the bullpen into the rotation or something.  If Austin is truly better defensively in right like Newman says, then his value is greater with solid defense in right than with adequate or worse defense at third.

Austin took well to right field last season and, frankly, the Yankees need a long-term right fielder as well. Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and the oft-overlooked Ramon Flores do give the club a bevy of potential outfield solutions though, and of course there are three different outfield spots to fill. The more I think about it the more I agree with what I wrote two weeks ago, that there is so much going right with Austin that I wouldn’t risk screwing him up somehow by asking him to change positions yet again. The Yankees apparently feel the same way, and ultimately the most important thing is that he keeps hitting and progressing offensively. If he does that, his bat will fit anywhere.

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  • CountryClub

    I hope they keep him in right. Let the kid continue to mash and get to the big club in the next 1 – 2 seasons. Moving him to 3rd will probably delay that by a year.

  • blake

    If he can actually play 3B at a big league level then sure…..but if not then just leave him in RF and let him hit and try to get to the big leagues. It’s not like they don’t need cost controlled outfielders too……

  • Jimmy McNulty

    Let him mash. Guy’s clearly trade bait, anyways.

    • Jim Is Bored


      • Cris Pengiucci

        Because he’s a minor leaguer in the Yankees farm system? (I hope he’s joking. I am.)

        • JobaWockeeZ

          Because he’s a minor league hitter in the Yankees farm system.

        • JU

          You’re joking, but we all know there is a tinge of truth to that.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Because the glass is always half-hole-in-the-bottom.

        • Jim Is Bored

          I’ve noticed that’s particularly true with Jimmy McNulty, among others.

          • JobaWockeeZ

            In this case it’s true. If the prospect is highly touted he has little chance of being anything more than trade bait for this team.

            In fact it would be better if Baseball America called all our prospects shit so we can keep all of them.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Which perfectly explains the presence of highly touted prospects Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain on the New York Yankees.

              I get the sentiment. It ain’t automatic. To your credit, you said “little” and not “no” chance.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    forget 3B, let’s talk about his catching…

    • joe


  • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM)

    Maybe it’s because I follow the Yankees with a microscope most of the year and really only pay attention to other teams minor leaguers when they have some sure-fire hot shot prospect either coming up (a la Trout or Harper) or on the trading block (a la Myers) but it always seems that the Yankees prospects never really reach fruition the way other teams prospects due. Not saying they don’t produce ever, but they never meet the expectations we as a fan base or scouts set for them. Example for player exceeding expectations: Robbie Cano, I remember when he came up everybody was wondering if he had the bat to stick in the majors and was worried if his lack of grittiness would allow him to stick at second base…years later he’s now arguably one of the best players in all of baseball. Example of a player falling just short of expectations: Phil Hughes, he was supposed to be a Roger Clemens like ace for decades…turns out he’s a middle of the rotation starter, good not great. Finally, prospects that have fallen flat on their face: The Killer B’s. Now it looks like one of them MIGHT throw a pitch in the majors at some point in 2015 when two seasons ago we expected at least Banuelos or Brackman to be battling for a rotation spot in 2013.

    Again, I’m not saying we have the worst player development in baseball, hell I’m not even saying their bad…I’m just lamenting at the fact that evaluating prospects usually leaves one broken hearted.

    • Ghost of Joe Dugan

      Brett Gardner & David Robertson have both exceeded expectations. Gardner was hotly debated on RAB on whether he was a 4th or 5th outfielder if he was a MLB OF’er at all. Very few argued that he was starting OF’er material.
      Your perception of Hughes being considered a Roger Clemens like ace far exceeds what was actually expected. A lot of scouts thought he was more of a #2 while others thought he had ace but not elite ace potential. I think it’s safe to say that Hughes & Joba, like thousands of pitchers before them had injuries adjust his career trajectory.

  • Scott

    I don’t agree with this: “If Austin is truly better defensively in right like Newman says, then his value is greater with solid defense in right than with adequate or worse defense at third.”

    There are so few good-hitting 3B (as the Youkilis contract shows) that if a guy can hit the same (for example) 110 wRC+ at 3B or RF, he’s far far more valuable at 3B than RF, even if he’s a better fielder in RF — because a 110 wRC+ barely surpasses the average RF while vastly surpassing the average 3B. (Same for, say, 95 wRC+: it’s close to replacement-level for a RF but above replacement for a 3B.)

    I admit you may be right that it’s bad to move him back to 3B, though, if either (a) he’s a total butcher at 3B or (b) they really think it would mess with his head and therefore risk screwing up his development as a hitter.

    • Kered Retej

      Agreed. RF and 3B may be side by side on the defensive spectrum, but scarcity should be enough to think hard about moving him back to 3rd. OF positions are just always easier to fill than IF positions.

      • mike

        IMO is more that teams will learn to deal with a crappy fielding Outfielder Fielder

      • JobaWockeeZ

        I’m surprised this was pretty much ignored in the post. It’s not the level of defense that cause position scarcity…it’s the lack of offense.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Interesting. I think I’d agree with that.

  • turd surfer

    This is an important year for Tyler. Might be his most important non-MLB year. No need to make it more complicated.

  • Jack P

    Looking at our outfield prospects is so much fun, then I remind myself how I’ve gotten my hopes up so many times in the past. I’m done putting too much heart into prospects until they rack it up at Triple-A (which even then is never a given).

    • ClusterDuck

      The list of Yankee prospects now producing in the majors over the last few years isn’t too bad. Hughes, Kennedy, Chamberlain, Jackson, Montero, Gardner, Robertson, Coke, Aceves, Nova, Phelps…

      Anyway about 3B and Austin, I’m of the opinion that things are going right with him so let’s not screw it up by putting him back at 3B., I say start the season with Adams(AAA or Yanks/Backup to Youk) and Bichette(A) at 3B and Austin in RF(AA/AAA).

      Then reevaluate mid season.

  • jjyank

    I agree that they should leave him in RF. Like Mike said, he might turn out to be the best hitter in the minors right now, I’d rather not fuck with that.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      While there’s a legitimate need for the Yankees at 3B, there’s also a need in the OF. Seems like the Yankees have more internal options to fill the OF holes than the one at 3B. For that reason, I’d love to see the Yankees try him back at 3B.

      At the same time, these guys know their players and their job much better than I do. I hope they make the right decision. (If not, I can be had to fill a player development position for a mere $250k/year, but of course, I would accept more if the going rate is higher.)

      • jjyank

        Part of that might depend on Adams, too. Maybe the Yankees think that Adams would be a better third baseman than Austin. Who knows.

  • John C

    Leave him where he is. They did something similar to Hensley Muelens back in the 80s and ruined him, moving him from 3rd to the outfield back to third and messed him up totally.

    • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

      I doubt that changing his defensive position is what “messed up” Hensley Meulens.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        Switching positions TOTALLY messed him up…….and curveballs, but switching positions was the big thing….other than the offspeed pitches. But when it’s all said and done, Bam Bam just couldn’t overcome the adjustments on the constant switching back and forth between third base and right field….and laying off sliders off the plate.

  • Billy

    He said last year his bat came around because he didn’t have to worry about his defense at third bringing him down. They moved him for a reason. Putting him at third could be a detriment to his continued offensive development. Reacclimating himself to 3B would be very difficult, even more so at AA or even High A.

    • Scott

      He expressly said that? If so, that flips my view from “ehh try him at 3B” to probably agreeing w/ OF….

    • Ghost of Joe Dugan

      “He said last year his bat came around because he didn’t have to worry about his defense at third bringing him down.”

      He may have said that, (link?), but considering he played 24 of his 47 games @ 3B in 2011 and managed to put up a line of .354 .418 .579 that year I’d want to see more evidence that he struggled when he was playing third base.

  • All Praise Be To Mo

    Sign Cano long term and move him to 3B and bring up Adams for 2B until Gumbs is ready.

  • trr

    don’t keep up with current events much, do you – with the cuts in payroll coming he is a needed commodity

  • Flyer7

    Bam Bam like Otto Velez and Tony Solaita before him was simply overhyped by the Yankee hype machine, decades old and always working..

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’m sure I have a Blue Jay era Otto Velez Topps card somewhere.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I know nothing as to the reason they moved him. If they like him at right better, keep him at right. Not much more to say from me there.

    • A????

      Austin’s is so much better than arod. arod cant hit the ball and I am a Yankees fan!!

  • Sam

    I see our future OF with RF Austin CF Flores LF HEATHCOTT. I think williams will get traded.

  • Patrick Oliver

    I agree Mike.
    Go Yankees!

  • Robert

    Look for Bichette to rebound this year.

    • A-Rod Apologist

      He better