Archive for Austin Aune
Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week. Mailbag questions, links, comments, whatever.
Travis asks: Is there a case to be made for trading Brett Gardner in the offseason? His calling card is his speed and once that goes, I believe his production for the team will be severely limited. The Yankees will have Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte and Slade Heathcott (presumably) on the roster for 2014, which could make Gardner expendable. He may or may not get the Yankees a draft pick after 2014, depending on his production and if his legs hold up and he doesn’t get hurt. Add in his age (30, 31 after next season) and you have the makings for a trap contract (if an extension is given). What are your thoughts?
There’s no one on the roster I wouldn’t trade right now. The Yankees don’t have a Mike Trout or a Clayton Kershaw, that untouchable player you can build around for the next half-decade. I very much agree Gardner will be close to useless once his speed slips, which is why I wouldn’t bother trying to sign him to an extension. He’s not all that young, like you said. Based on what we know right now, I’d be completely fine with letting him walk as a free agent after next season. Let someone else pay for his decline years.
Trading Gardner has more to do with the possible return than anything. What can one year of an above-average but not elite center fielder get you on the open market? Is last winter’s Shin-Soo Choo trade comparable? He was a much better hitter but a fraction of the defender and completely unproven in center. The Indians turned him into a top 20 pitching prospect (Trevor Bauer). One year of David DeJesus — a much more comparable player to Gardner than Choo — brought back absolutely nothing (Vin Mazzaro!) a few years ago. Coco Crisp fetched a then above-average big league reliever (Ramon Ramirez) and is probably the best comparison. Teams have done a better job of valuing defense since then, however.
Trading Gardner makes sense in a vacuum, but who would the Yankees play in center in his place? Sign Jacoby Ellsbury? Re-sign Curtis Granderson? I don’t think Ichiro can do it full-time and Wells sure as hell can’t. Mesa will be out of options next year and likely cut from the roster before the end of the Spring Training. Heathcott won’t be ready either. There’s a lot of variables here, it’s not like trading Gardner would be dealing from a position of depth. If some team wants to overpay, sure, move him. If not, he’s more valuable to them next year than anything they’ll probably get back in a deal.
Andrew asks: Whatever happened to the Cuban pitcher the Phillies supposedly signed but then never agreed to a contract with? He’s still out there, any idea why and if the Yankees could get him to fill in next year?
Andrew’s talking about 26-year-old Miguel Alberto Gonzalez, who agreed to a six-year contract worth more than $50M with Philadelphia back in July. The contract fell apart a few weeks later over concerns about his elbow, specifically bone spurs. He had some removed two years ago and is said to have made a full recovery, but apparently there was enough of a concern on the Phillies’ part to call off the agreement. The two sides could always work out a new deal. I have no idea if Gonzalez could step into the rotation and help the Yankees next year, but he’s still out there if they want to sign him. Six years and $50M is a ton of money though.
Travis asks: Could the Yankees make a play for David Freese if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for all or most of 2014?
Get ready for a winter full of Freese-to-New York rumors, ’cause they’re coming. Ken Rosenthal (video link) recently said the Cardinals are expected to shift Matt Carpenter to third base (his natural position) with top infield prospect Kolten Wong taking over at second (his natural position) next season, making Freese available in what figures to be a thin third base market. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? As long as Wong doesn’t expect, I suppose.
Freese, 30, is hitting .266/.342/.380 (106 wRC+) with six homers in 412 plate appearances this year, his worst season as a big leaguer. He missed a few weeks with a back strain earlier this summer and has a long injury history, including heel (2009), right ankle (2010), left ankle (2010), and hand (2011) surgeries. Freese will earn $3.15M this year and is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015, so he’ll be relatively affordable. Given his age and injury history, this isn’t someone you look to sign long-term. Ideally he’d be a two-year stopgap between A-Rod and Eric Jagielo, right? We can dream.
I’m not quite sure how to value Freese in a trade at this point. He’s not particularly young, his hot corner defense is just okay (awful this year by the various metrics), his power has vanished (.114), he’s injury prone, and he’s touted as a clutch god because of his work in the postseason two years ago. That last part is why a ton of people will overvalue him, kinda like Andre Ethier. Ethier hit some walk-off homers a few years ago and suddenly he became a star when the actual production said otherwise. Yes, the Yankees should look into acquiring Freese if he becomes available, I just don’t know what an appropriate package would be. He’s a solid regular at a hard-to-fill position, not a star or a true impact player.
Jeb asks: Austin Aune’s season has been … interesting. I’m assuming he has a decent arm because he started at SS and had a chance to play QB. Is there a chance that he could be converted to a pitcher?
Interesting is a nice way to put it. The 19-year-old Aune is hitting .177/.209/.234 (~25 wRC+) with a ridiculous 67 strikeouts (!) in 148 plate appearances. That’s a 45.3% strikeout rate (!!!). Remember, the Yankees gave this kid a double-slot $1M bonus as their second round pick (89th overall) just last summer. He was raw because he was a top quarterback recruit who split time between the two sports in high school, but raw doesn’t explain that. I hope the Yankees have Aune working on some swing adjustments because that would at least explain the extreme contact problems. I wouldn’t pull the plug on him as a hitter yet, he is still just a teenager with only 311 pro plate appearances to his credit, but yeah. This isn’t exactly encouraging.
Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
The Yankees have been getting above-average production from the shortstop position for nearly two decades now thanks to Derek Jeter, who continued to prove doubters/me wrong by hitting .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) with a league-leading 216 hits at age 38 last summer. His postseason ended prematurely due to a fractured left ankle — after playing on a bone bruise pretty much all September — that required offseason surgery, and he’s yet to play this spring as he rehabs. The shortstop position is a question mark for New York and it’s not just because of Jeter’s injury.
It will be Jeter, hell or high water. Despite his lack of Grapefruit League action to date, he hasn’t suffered any kind of setback and is expected to be ready in time for Opening Day. The Yankees will, however, use the Cap’n as their DH against left-handed pitchers quite a bit (i.e. all the time) in April to give him the occasional break and day off his feet. They did something similar last year and will do it again this year, but it’s a bit more of a necessity now.
Offensively, the projections hate Jeter because he’s a 38-year-old shortstop coming off a major injury, but he’s been legitimately driven the ball since working with former hitting coach Gary Denbo during his midseason DL stint in 2010. He’s managed a .321/.369/.434 overall batting line in over 1,000 plate appearances since then — including a respectable .298/.351/.377 against righties, who handled him very well from 2010 through the start of the DL stint — which is no small sample. Those hits weren’t ground balls with eyes or bloops in front of poor defensive outfielders, it’s been vintage Jeter slashing the ball to right and occasionally over the fence.
The defense is what really concerns me. The Cap’n has pretty much always been a below-average defender and he hasn’t gotten any better with age, but now we’re adding the ankle injury on top of it. If he loses any more mobility, forget it. He’d be completely unplayable at shortstop even though the Yankees would never consider moving him down the defensive spectrum. Jeter’s arm is fine and his glovework — he handles whatever he can get to — is strong, but his limited range could be even worse in 2013. With a ground ball heavy rotation (outside of Phil Hughes), it could be a major problem. For now the Yankees will count on Jeter to again ignite the offense from atop the lineup and live with his flaws, which is what they’ve been doing for several years now.
It’s obvious the Yankees want it to be Eduardo Nunez. They’re giving him every opportunity to show he can handle the position, starting last year with his demotion and continuing this spring with his 36 defensive innings, two shy of team leader Melky Mesa. They’ve worked with him on shortening his arm action and all sorts of stuff, but nothing has taken. Still, they’re apparently intrigued by the 25-year-old’s offensive potential, which stems almost exclusively from his contact ability and speed. If they get their way, it will be Nunez soaking up all those shortstop innings while Jeter spends the day at DH against left-handed starters.
Jayson Nix is the only alternative here and is more of an emergency option at shortstop that someone you’d want to run out there several days in a row if need be. Neither he nor Nunez inspires much confidence, really.
Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do not have a shortstop prospect in Triple-A at all. There’s an outside chance Nunez will get sent down to start the season, but I wouldn’t count on it. The Scranton club will rely on the likes of 33-year-old Gil Velazquez and 26-year-olds Addison Maruszak and Reegie Corona at the infield’s most important position. Velazquez and Corona are no-hit/all-glove types while Maruszak doesn’t really do much of anything well. The team’s only real in-house shortstop options are Jeter, Nunez, and Nix. They’d sooner make a trade than run Velazquez, Corona, or Maruszak out there semi-regularly.
The Top Prospect
The Yankees don’t have a standout shortstop prospect but they do have a very interesting one in 19-year-old Austin Aune, the team’s 14th best prospect overall. Last summer’s second rounder received a $1M bonus and hit .273/.358/.410 (130 wRC+) with one homer and five steals in 163 plate appearances for the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate, though his inexperience was evident in his 27.6% strikeout rate. Aune was a top quarterback recruit who passed on a commitment to TCU to sign with New York, so the Yankees are hoping that focusing on baseball full-time will allow him to reach his considerable ceiling. Aune has big power potential from the left side to go along with his strong throwing arm and athleticism, but there is a lot of work to be done. He’ll likely begin the season in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island at midseason, so he’s far from being a big league factor.
The Deep Sleeper
Cito Culver and Claudio Custodio are New York’s most well-known lower-level shortstop prospects, but neither hit much last season or projects to be a real impact player. The Yankees’ most intriguing shortstop prospect way down in the minors is 18-year-old Abi Avelino, who signed for $300k back in 2011. He’s a standout defender with a good arm, good instincts, and good body control, and his offensive game is built around an easy right-handed swing that produces an awful lot contact. Avelino obviously has a long, long way to go before he becomes a factor in the Major Leagues, but he has all the tools to breakout and establish himself as one of the team’s best prospects. The Yankees are expected to bring him stateside with one of their two rookie level GCL affiliates this summer.
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The Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira injuries mean Jeter’s return from his ankle surgery is extremely important to the team’s early season success. He needs to get on the field, stay on the field, and get on-base so Robinson Cano has someone to drive in. The Yankees will ease him back into the shortstop position with those DH days, but the Cap’n’s bat is the most important thing. There is no real immediate help at the position coming up behind Jeter just in case, that is unless Nunez suddenly figures out how to make routine throws. I’m not counting on it.
Austin Aune | SS
A Texas kid from the suburbs of Dallas, Aune was a two-sport star at Argyle High School. He led the Eagles to the Texas 3-A football championship game last fall spring by throwing for nearly 3,500 yards with 42 total touchdowns. On the diamond, Aune led the team in batting average (.447) and homers (eight) while also doing some pitching. He was named the district co-MVP in football and district MVP in baseball as a senior.
Aune was a strong quarterback prospect and committed to Texas Christian University, which was going to allow him to play both sports. Baseball America ranked him as the 15th best prospect in Texas and 128th best prospect overall prior to the 2012 draft, though there were plenty of concerns about his signability. The Yankees rolled the dice with their second round pick, taking Aune with the 89th overall selection. It was the compensation pick they received for failing to sign second rounder Sam Stafford in 2011. The Yankees had an agreement in place with Aune before the end of the draft, and he officially signed less than two weeks later. He received a $1M bonus that was nearly double the $548,400 slot recommendation.
June 15th: Via K. Levine-Flandrup and Jim Callis, Aune has officially signed for $1M. Slot money was just shy of $550k, so they went over big time for him. Check out our Draft Pool page for the latest on that front. Interestingly enough, Aune will begin his professional career as a shortstop, not as an outfielder. He did play short in high school and I was wondering if they would have him at least have him try it after signing. No reason not to, really.
June 5th: Via Adam Boedeker, the Yankees already have an agreement in place with second round pick Austin Aune. The high school outfielder from Texas was committed to TCU, and New York selected him with the compensation pick they received for failing to sign last year’s second rounder, Sam Stafford.
Slot money for the 89th overall pick is $548,400, though it’s unclear how much the agreement is worth. In their subscriber-only scouting report, Baseball America said Aune “offers an impressive package of tools, starting with plus raw power and arm strength … He has a balanced lefthanded stroke and solid speed, and scouts praise his makeup as well.” I don’t remember the Yankees ever having an agreement in place with a draft pick this quickly, but I suppose this is a result of new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams had to make sure they could sign their guys before committing.