Tyler Austin: A scouting report and the future

(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

This has been a down year for the farm system for the most part, though the most notable exception is the emergence of Tyler Austin from interesting guy to high-end prospect. The Yankees signed the 20-year-old for $135k as their 13th round pick back in 2010, and he’s rewarded them by hitting .322/.404/.583 with 15 homers and 18 steals (in 20 tries) across two levels of Single-A this year. Both Baseball America and Keith Law recently ranked him as one of the 50 best prospects in the game.

The numbers certainly pass the sniff test and at 6-foot-2 and 200 lbs., Austin passes the eye test as well. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, a former Yankees intern, scouted him during a recent High-A Tampa game and published the write-up yesterday. It’s an excellent and lengthy Insider-only read, so I can’t give away too much. Here are the most relevant points…

He’s a below-average runner with choppy steps and some thickness to a 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame. Austin’s arm is slightly above-average, so he can play right field, and he’s quick enough to stay there for now …  There is a risk for barring his lead arm and/or a loopy path in how he moves his hands, but Austin has good enough feel for his swing that this hasn’t been a problem in games I’ve seen … Austin’s strength, bat speed and hips combine to create above-average to plus raw power that is most natural to the opposite gap, an encouraging sign for power showing up in games and translating at higher levels … The separator for Austin is his advanced plan, feel and plate coverage that is fueled by his quick hands and allows him to tap into his raw power in games. Austin has a tough profile and little margin for error, but he’s got a good chance to reach his ceiling of .275-.280 average with 25 homers.

Mike Newman passed along a similar report when he caught Austin a few weeks ago, saying the stolen base totals — 36-for-38 in steal attempts for his career — are not indicative of his actual speed and athleticism, and that the swing can get a little flat. Both guys agree that the (hard to find) right-handed pop and opposite field stroke are for real though, ditto the advanced approach that allows Austin to wait for his pitch and take ball four (11.3% walk rate) if he doesn’t get anything to hit.

The long-term concern here is position. Austin was drafted as a catcher and moved to third base almost immediately. He shifted to right field this season in part due to a lack of hot corner quickness, but also because of the presence of Dante Bichette Jr., last year’s first rounder. McDaniel notes that Austin may have to move to first base long-term, though hopefully he can stave off that fate for a few years ago. Either way, Austin’s carrying tool is his bat and if ever reaches the big leagues, it’ll be because he hit his way there. Don’t count on defensive value.

Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has a bit of a spotty track record when it comes to first round/top picks, but he and his scouting staff just kill it in the late rounds, particularly on the mound. They consistently find power arms to feed the bullpen pipeline and dangle in trades, but Austin at least has the potential to be their best late-round find yet as an impact hitter from the right side of the plate. The Yankees are going to need to add some cheap bats to the lineup in the coming years, and Austin could have himself on the big league radar by 2014 if he stays healthy and progresses as hoped.

Just FYI, McDaniel also commented on outfielders Slade Heathcott (“shows big tools with above-average left-handed power and above-average speed that makes for a potentially enticing center-field package”) and Ramon Flores (“the tools are short for big league impact”). Last week he covered Mason Williams and some of those bullpen arms.

Yankees batter Orioles to end four-game slide

The Orioles had a chance to sweep the Yankees in the Bronx for the first time since 1986, but the Bombers avoided that fate and put an end to the four-game losing streak with a thorough beatdown of Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Early Runs

The Yankees scored five runs in the first inning on Tuesday, but the bats went into hibernation after that while Ivan Nova coughed it all up. Wednesday’s effort was more spread out, with two runs in the first, two in the second, and seven in the third. The Yankees went a combined 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position, including a grand slam by Robinson Cano to cap off that seven-run third inning. Six different players had run-scoring plate appearances during those first three innings. It was an all-out assault against Zach Britton. Poor kid threw 80 pitches to get eight outs.

Luck or Maturity?

Phil Hughes wasn’t overly dominant — nine hits and two walks — in his six innings of one-run ball, but it was an effective outing nonetheless. The Orioles put the leadoff man on-base in the fourth (first two hitters reached), fifth (first two hitters reached again), and sixth (just one), but they didn’t score a single run. It seems like Hughes has done that a lot this year, put the leadoff man on and pitch out of the jam. Is it luck/timing, or maturity? It’s probably a little of both, but either way it’s still good to see him pitch out of  jams that would have spiraled into multi-run innings in previous years.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Joba Returns

After nearly 14 months on the shelf, Joba Chamberlain finally got back on a big league mound in this game. He didn’t pitch all that well, allowing a solo homer to the first batter he faced and two runs on four hits in 1.2 innings overall, but it’s still great to see him back out there. There’s obviously lots of rust to shake off — I like that he went out for that second inning of work — but he threw all four pitches in the outing and averaged 92 on the gun. The Yankees need another non-matchup reliever in a big way and they seem to be counting on Joba to be that guy.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Ichiro Suzuki played his first game in left field in more than decade, making one nice leaping catch at the wall to rob an extra-base hit. He also went 1-for-5 at the plate to extend his exactly-one-hit streak to nine games, the entirety of his Yankees career. The two deep fly balls he hit in his first two at-bats might have left the park with better weather, but who knows.

Derek Jeter had three hits for the second straight day, on the heels of a .346/.375/.439 showing in June. The Cap’n doesn’t walk or hit for much power these days, but there aren’t many better at piling up a sheer volume of base hits like this. Led by Jeter, the top four hitters in the order went a combined 9-for-17 with a double (Nick Swisher) and two homers (Cano and Curtis Granderson).

Casey McGehee’s debut in pinstripes went well — he drew two walks against the lefty Britton and went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly and two ground ball double plays in his three trips to the plate against various right-handed relievers. That’s pretty much they’re going to get out of him. The Yankees scored double-digit runs for just the sixth time this season, and the 12 runs are the second this year most behind the 15 they scored in The Great Fenway Comeback.

Clay Rapada struck out the two lefties he faced and David Robertson recorded the last two outs of the ninth for an uneventful end to the game. The Orioles went a combined 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position, but based on how we treat the Yankees when they do stuff like that, Baltimore just sucks in those situations and we give no credit to the pitchers. So I guess that means it’s luck for Phil? Eh, whatever.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some additional stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The lead in the division is back up to seven games in the loss column with 58 to play.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are off on Thursday and will welcome the Mariners to the Bronx for a three-game series starting Friday night. CC Sabathia and Kevin Millwood are scheduled to kick that one off. Check out RAB Tickets for some deals to get you in the door this weekend.

Heathcott homers in Tampa win

Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein got together on the Baseball Today podcast this afternoon to talk about prospects who traded at the deadline. They also took some time to speak about RHP Dellin Betances and his awful season, and predictably were pretty down on him. The Betances stuff starts around the 31:00 mark, so check it out.

Meanwhile, OF Melky Mesa has been promoted to Triple-A following tonight’s roster moves.

Double-A Trenton (4-3 win over Altoona in 11 innings, walk-off style)
2B Jose Pirela & SS Addison Maruszak: both 2-4, 1 RBI, 1 K — Pirela had the walk-off sac fly
3B David Adams, CF Melky Mesa & 1B Kevin Mahoney: all 1-5 — Adams struck out twice, Melky thrice … Mahoney hit a two-run homer to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth and committed an error when he missed a catch
RF Zoilo Almonte & LF Rob Segedin: both 0-4 — Almonte got hit by a pitch, struck out three times and committed a fielding error … Segedin drew a walk and scored twice
DH Luke Murton: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 K
C Jose Gil: 0-3, 1 HBP
RHP Mikey O’Brien: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 E (pickoff) — 61 of 100 pitches were strikes
LHP Francisco Rondon: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/1 GB/FB — half of his 22 pitches were strikes
RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, zeroes, 4 K, 1 WP, 1/2 GB/FB — 19 of 27 pitches were strikes (70%)
RHP Jon Meloan: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 17 of 29 pitches were strikes (59%)
RHP Graham Stoneburner: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 14 of 22 pitches were strikes (64%)

[Read more…]

Yankees release Jack Cust, Colin Curtis, and Ray Kruml

Via Donnie Collins, the Yankees have released DH Jack Cust, OF Colin Curtis, and OF Ray Kruml. Curtis has 64 plate appearances with the big league team in 2010 (42 wRC+), but missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. He’ll be best remembered for his mid-at-bat pinch-hit homer for Brett Gardner. Cust was Triple-A Empire State’s most dangerous hitter this year, posting a 145 wRC+ with an absurd 19.1% walk rate. Kruml was just a spare outfielder for the club.

None of the three were going to see time for the big league team this year, but the Cust and Curtis moves are huge blows to Empire State’s push for a playoff berth. I’m guessing we’re going to see a promotion or two in the coming weeks.

Kevin Goldstein’s Top 50 Midseason Prospects

Kevin Goldstein posted his midseason list of the top 50 prospects in baseball over at Baseball Prospectus today (subs. req’d), and Rangers SS Jurickson Profar predictably claimed the top spot. Royals OF Wil Myers and Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy round out the top three.

Two Yankees farmhands made the list, C Gary Sanchez at #23 and OF Mason Williams at #36. They ranked #40 and #99 on his preseason list, respectively. LHP Manny Banuelos was #29 on KG’s preseason list but predictably dropped out due to the elbow injury. OF Tyler Austin cracked the midseason top 50 lists of Baseball America and Keith Law, but Goldstein wasn’t having any of it.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

I’ve said this a bunch of times through the years but it’s still true: off days always feel better coming off a win. The Yankees wrecked the Orioles on Wednesday afternoon, ending the four-game losing streak and temporarily halting this little stretch of crummy play. Joba Chamberlain also pitched today (not well), and it was good to see him back out there. I like that Joe Girardi used him for more than one inning too, gotta get him back into the swing of things.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. The Tigers and Red Sox will be on ESPN at 7pm ET (Porcello vs. Cook) and the Mets are out in San Francisco to play the Giants a little later on (Niese vs. Cain). Talk about those games or anything else your heart desires right here. Have at it.

The trade deadline and the AL playoff picture

(Jeff Golden/Getty Images)

The trade deadline passed yesterday, and as usual there were a number of deals. While blockbuster trades for the likes of Justin Upton, Cliff Lee, or Matt Garza never happened, there were still a number of impact players that changed teams  Contending teams looked to bolster their squads for the stretch run, while the teams who are out of the playoff hunt dumped assets to save salary and strengthen the farm.  In this post, I will take a look at the moves made by the Yankees and their competition, both within the division and within the AL, to see how these deals will impact the 2012 playoff picture.

Yankees

As has become customary for the Yankees this time of year, Brian Cashman and crew did not make any big, splashy moves, citing the excessive costs demanded in prospects and players.  However, they did make a few moves to improve the team’s depth, fill holes created by injuries, and set the Yankees up for a deep run in October.

The Ichiro Suzuki acquisition was one where the hype and excitement is probably disproportionate to the expected impact of the player.  Nonetheless, it was an important acquisition, giving the Yankees speed and defensive prowess that they have missed because Brett Gardner has missed most of the season, and shows no signs of returning anytime soon.  While Ichiro had had a disappointing 2012 so far, anything the Yankees can get from him offensively is gravy.  I think he still has something left in the tank, especially against right-handed pitchers, and he can be an effective table-setting presence from the bottom of the order.

The swap of Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee served two purposes.  Not only did the trade rid the Yankees of an ineffective bullpen arm to clear a spot for the return of Joba Chamberlain, it also brought in a backup corner infielder with some right-handed pop who can fill in for the injured Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and give the notably fragile Eric Chavez some extra rest.

Red Sox

While Boston is 7.5 games out and just 2 games over .500, the team is too talented to count out.  However, they didn’t do very much at the deadline in terms of either buying or selling.  They re-acquired lefty reliever Craig Breslow, but they didn’t make any moves to deal underachieving pitchers Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, as some speculated they might.  Rob Bradford of WEEI reported that they did discuss a blockbuster deal with the Rangers that included Josh Beckett, Kelly Shoppach, and Jacoby Ellsbury, but nothing ever emerged from those talks.  While the Red Sox did not wave the white flag by selling off any impact players, they didn’t exactly do anything significant to improve their team.  This indicates that they think that they will improve naturally as their players get healthy and start playing better, or consider them too worthwhile to give up long-term assets to increase the small likelihood that they make the playoffs (though they are only 3.5 games out in the Wild Card).

Rays and Orioles

The Rays are 6.5 games behind the Yankees in the division and 2.5 games back in the Wild Card standings, and the Orioles are a game ahead of the Rays.  Nonetheless, neither team showed a sense of urgency, as they didn’t make any trades that would increase their likelihood of winning the Wild Card or catching the Yankees.

Angels

The traditional thorn in the Yankees’ side made one of the biggest moves of the trading period, acquiring RHP Zack Greinke for Baseball America’s #55 prospect Jean Segura and 2 others.  Greinke, who was having a strong season with the Brewers, adds another frontline-caliber pitcher to an Angels rotation that already includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Dan Haren.  With Greinke in the fold, the Angels’ deep rotation becomes even deeper, and that quartet of starters could prove formidable come playoff time.  As a Yankee fan, it’s hard not to be nervous about a Weaver-Greinke-Wilson-Haren rotation come playoff time, especially when paired with Yankee-killer Mark Trumbo and 20 year-old superman Mike Trout.

Rangers

The Rangers, the current AL West leaders, made two moves to improve their team in expectation of a trip to October.  They acquired RHP Ryan Dempster, who was also connected to the Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves in trade rumors.  Dempster is currently #2 in the majors in ERA, and while few expect him to finish that well after moving to the AL and Texas’ hitter-friendly park, Dempster should be a big addition to a pitching staff with some injuries and question marks. They also added catcher Geovany Soto, who will improve the Rangers’ defense behind the plate and allow them to use Mike Napoli at DH or 1st base more often. These two moves strengthened an already-formidable team, and while the Rangers still have questions in the rotation due to injuries, adding Dempster will provide some important stability.

White Sox

The White Sox own a 2.5 game lead in the AL Central and made some additions at or around the deadline. While GM Kenny Williams reportedly tried and failed to acquire Zack Greinke, he did make a cheaper addition to the rotation in the form of Francisco Liriano. While Liriano has had an uneven season and injuries have kept him from fulfilling his incredible potential, he is talented enough that if he figures things out, he could be a major force in the Chicago rotation. Although the deal happened well before the deadline, the Kevin Youkilis acquisition has already paid dividends for Sox.  He provides their lineup with some power and patience, and can adequately fill the 3rd base slot that was causing the Sox problems earlier in the year.

As we can see, almost all of the Yankees’ playoff competitors made significant improvements this trade season.  The Angels adding Greinke is the move that scares me the most, but Texas’s acquisition of Ryan Dempster also provides a major upgrade to an already-strong team.  The Yankees’ divisional competition didn’t do much to improve, which bodes well for their chances to win the division.  While the Yankees failed to make any flashy trades, they filled some holes and should be well-positioned to win the AL East and enter the playoffs as a World Series contender.  Healthy and effective returns by Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte will be of utmost importance here.