Archive for Tyler Austin
First base is a weird position. Teams expect huge offensive production from first base and it’s at the bottom of the defensive spectrum despite being involved in more total plays than any position other than pitcher and catcher. You can’t just stick anyone there either. We’ve seen enough of that firsthand this year. You need offense from first but defense isn’t a huge deal, except for all those times the first baseman handles the ball.
You also rarely hear people talk about a team’s “first baseman of the future” too. There’s plenty of “this guy will be our shortstop for the next ten years,” but first base? Nope. The history of first base prospects is pretty awful as well. Baseball America ranked 37 full-time first baseman among their top 100 prospects from 1995-2005 and only five became bonafide stars: Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Todd Helton, Paul Konerko, and David Ortiz, who made his name at DH.
More recent elite first base prospects like Eric Hosmer and Justin Smoak have been disappointments. Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo are the best of the top first base prospect crop since Fielder while others like Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt were never top prospects. It has historically been a tough position to project and I think that’s because it’s so offense-focused. Hitting is generally considered to be tougher to scout and evaluate than pitching because there is no “textbook” swing. A fastball is a fastball and a slider is a slider. But a swing? Good luck cracking that code.
Anyway, the Yankees are at a point now where the future of first base in the Bronx is up in the air. Mark Teixeira is under contract for another two seasons but he is becoming more and more injury prone with each passing year. His playing time at first base will only go down through injuries and time spent at DH in an effort to keep him healthy. The Yankees have gotten by (barely) with fill-in first basemen during Teixeira’s injuries this season, though I hope that isn’t the plan going forward. To just wing it whenever Teixeira gets hurt.
The Yankees currently have two first base prospect at Double-A Trenton … well, one first base and one kinda sorta first base prospect. The true first base prospect is Greg Bird, who was just promoted and has gone 9-for-30 (.300) with three doubles and three homers during his first week with the Thunder. He had a monster 2013 season (170 wRC+) with Low-A Charleston and offers the kind of left-handed power and patience the Yankees crave. Bird is a recently converted catcher though, so his defense at first can be generously described as a work in progress.
The kinda sorta first base prospect is Tyler Austin, another ex-catcher who has bounced from third to first to right field over the years. He’s spent most of this year playing right in deference to Peter O’Brien and now to Bird. Austin had an outstanding 2012 campaign (~160 wRC+) before a wrist injury marred his 2013 season (103 wRC+). The wrist problem lingered into this season and caused him to miss the start of the year, and after a few slow weeks, he’s hit .319/.362/.518 with six homers since July 1st. It appears 2012 Austin is starting to return as he gets further away from the wrist injury.
Neither Bird nor Austin is a top first base prospect like Hosmer or Fielder — Austin did rank 77th on Baseball America’s top 100 in 2013 — though they are solid prospects expected to be average or better contributors at the MLB level, assuming things work out. League average is valuable, especially when the players are making close to the league minimum in their pre-arbitration years. Austin in particular fits the roster very well as a right-handed hitter with some power who can play both right and first. Bird, as a pure first baseman, is a less perfect fit.
It’s clear at this point the Yankees will need some kind of viable backup for Teixeira going forward just because he gets hurt all the time. It’s not necessarily the 15-day DL stuff either. He’s shown a knack for those 6-7 day injuries, the ones that are short enough to avoid the DL but long enough to force the team to play a man short. The problem is that “backup first baseman” really isn’t a position anymore. No team carries a player specifically for that. They tend to carry, well, someone like Austin, who can play first in addition to the corner outfield, third base, or even catch. Think Mike Carp or Steve Pearce or Scott Van Slyke.
The assumption has been that Brian McCann will eventually have to move to first base, though continues to rate very well defensively in terms of pitching framing, throwing out runners, and blocking balls in the dirt. His bat has been a huge disappointment this season but there is no reason to move him out from behind the plate yet. Since Austin is further along in his development thank Bird and figures to start next season at Triple-A Scranton, he’ll be in position to help the Yankees as soon as next season, perhaps getting his opportunity when Teixeira gets hurt. Bird is still a year or two away and his lack of flexibility hurts his chances. If Austin hits, the Yankees will have some different ways to get him into the lineup. They can’t really do that with Bird.
Until his contract is off the books, Teixeira will be New York’s primary first baseman and that’s just the way it’s going to be. There is no reason to think they’ll bench him or relegate him to DH duty on a regular basis. It would be a drastic change from the way they’ve done business for the last, I dunno, 15-20 years. Teixeira’s injuries will give Austin and later Bird a chance to get into the big league lineup — assuming they’re worth calling up, of course — though staying there is the hard part. The Yankees have had four primary first baseman over the last 30 years and they usually go for stars at the position. The opportunity will come for both Austin and Bird in the next two years, but being a good but not great prospect with the Yankees is a not ideal. They may only be stopgaps until the next big name comes along.
Everyone is focused on Opening Day tomorrow and rightfully so, but let’s not forget the minor league season is right around the corner as well. The four full season affiliates open their seasons this coming Thursday, and obviously this is a huge year for the farm system. The Yankees need some prospects to take steps forward with their development and stay healthy following last summer’s injury and disappointment filled nightmare.
If you’re new to RAB, one of our regular features is the Prospect Watch. Every year we pick a prospect and track his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Past Prospect Watches include Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Jesus Montero, Andrew Brackman, and Mason Williams, among others. Last season we tracked Tyler Austin, who put up a disappointing .257/.344/.373 (103 wRC+) batting line with six homers in 366 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton while batting a wrist problem. Hopefully 2014 will go better, both for Austin and the Prospect Watch.
As we’ve done the last two years, we’re going to open up the Prospect Watch decision to the readers. I used to just pick a top prospect — it was pretty easy in the cases of Hughes, Joba, and Montero back in the day — but this is better. I don’t think there’s an obvious choice this year. In fact, I think there are too many good candidates. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Here are my eight hand-picked nominees (listed alphabetically) with their rank in my Preseason Top 30 List in parentheses. Vote at the bottom of the post.
OF Tyler Austin (4)
We’ve had the same player be the Prospect Watch in back-to-back years before (Montero) and I’m certainly not opposed to doing it again. Austin, 22, is only a year removed from his monster .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) campaign, during which he hit 17 homers and stole 23 bases. It’s important to keep in mind that his wrist gave him a problem early in camp, so he will be held back in Extended Spring Training as he prepares for the season. He won’t be ready to go on Thursday.
LHP Manny Banuelos (10)
Banuelos, 23, was our Prospect Watch back in 2011, a year before his elbow starting barking. He eventually had Tommy John surgery and he has not pitched in a regular season game since May 2012. Banuelos is healthy now and will start the season on time. The injury makes it easy to forget how good he was back in the day, like when he had a 2.51 ERA (~2.18 FIP) back in 2010. Banuelos is the only pitcher nominee for the Prospect Watch, not surprising given the state of the system.
1B Greg Bird (11)
No one in the farm system had a better statistical season in 2013. The 21-year-old Bird hit .288/.428/.511 (170 wRC+) with 20 homers and 107 walks for Low-A Charleston last season, a year that bests Austin’s 2012 effort. Bird, however, dealt with a back issue in camp and he will not start the season on time. Like Austin, he will open the year in Extended Spring Training making up for all the time he lost this spring.
OF Slade Heathcott (3)
Armed with a brand new 40-man roster spot, Heathcott is coming off a .261/.327/.411 (104 wRC+) season with Double-A Trenton, hitting 22 doubles, seven triples, and eight homers while stealing 15 bases. The 23-year-old has the loudest tools in the organization and could put it all together at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, like Austin and Bird, Heathcott will start the season in Extended Spring Training. He’s working his way back from offseason knee surgery.
3B Eric Jagielo (5)
Jagielo, 21, was the first of last summer’s three first round picks. His pro debut was a smashing success: .264/.376/.451 (152 wRC+) with six homeruns in 229 plate appearances. Jagielo is slated to open the season with High-A Tampa and as a polished college bat, he should have a field day with Single-A pitching.
OF Aaron Judge (7)
The 21-year-old Judge was the second of the team’s three first rounders last year. He did not play at all after signing due to a minor quad injury, but he is healthy now and will open 2014 with Low-A Charleston. Judge is physically huge (listed at 6-foot-7 and 255 lbs.) and he has huge raw power, enough that he could become the organization’s first true prospect to hit 25+ homers since Brandon Laird in 2010.
C Gary Sanchez (1)
The system’s top prospect for two years running has not yet been featured in our Prospect Watch. Sanchez, 21, hit .253/.324/.412 (~109 wRC+) with 27 doubles and 15 homers split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last year, and he will return to the Thunder to start 2014. Sanchez has the best combination of power, hitting skills, and overall approach in the organization, hence his status as the top prospect.
OF Mason Williams (6)
Two years ago we following the 22-year-old Williams and he had a marvelous season, hitting .298/.346/.474 (~125 wRC+) with 11 homers and 20 steals in only 397 plate appearances. His follow-up performance wasn’t nearly as good, just a .245/.304/.337 (83 wRC+) batting line with four homeruns and 15 steals in 537 plate appearances. The raw talent is there though, Williams’ tools are right up there with Heathcott. Remember, he’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter and a 40-man roster spot is a great motivator.
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I opted not to include C John Ryan Murphy, my number two prospect, because there’s a decent chance he’ll wind up in the big leagues as a backup, sitting around for days on end. Don’t want the Prospect Watch to go unused. I was planning to include RHP Ty Hensley in this post, but his recent hernia injury will keep him out for a few weeks. Others like 2B Gosuke Katoh and RHP Luis Severino fell victim to the numbers crunch. They’ll have more chances in the future.
The poll will remain open until 10am-ish ET on Wednesday, so you have plenty of time to vote if you’re unable to make up your mind right now. I know I can’t, so you’re not alone. Here’s the poll:
Update: Poll’s closed! Thanks for voting!
One day after posting his top 100 prospects list and two days after posting his organizational rankings, Keith Law released his top ten prospects lists for each of the 15 AL clubs today (East, Central, West, subs. req’d). The NL will be released tomorrow, if you care. Here are the Yankees’ top 11, according to KLaw:
- C Gary Sanchez (68th on the top 100)
- OF Tyler Austin (85th)
- OF Mason Williams (87th)
- C J.R. Murphy
- OF Slade Heathcott
- OF Aaron Judge
- LHP Ian Clarkin
- 3B Eric Jagielo
- RHP Luis Severino
- 1B Greg Bird
- RHP Jose Ramirez (Law said he is #11 in the write-up)
Judge is mentioned as a breakout candidate (video link) who could jump not just into the top 100 next year, but into the top 25 with a strong season.
In his write-up, Law says Murphy is “going to be an every-day catcher for somebody” while Bird’s “patience/power game could make him a second-division regular down the road.” Severino might not stick as a starter long-term but his “three-pitch mix might be three pluses out of the pen, and it’s a grade-65 or 70 fastball [on the 20-80 scale] even in the rotation.” Law also quotes a scout who said Heathcott is “legitimately a crazy person,” which is kinda funny. The kid always seems to have his dial set to 11.
“The Yankees have to be excited about Venezuelan catcher Luis Torrens, whom they signed for $1.3 million in July 2012,” added Law, picking Torrens as the organization’s sleeper prospect. “A new convert to catching, Torrens took to it extremely well, with plus hands and plus defense overall, with a good swing and feel at the plate, only lacking power but likely hitting for average with good OBP when he develops.”
Sanchez is the clear top prospect in the organization right now. I’m not sure anyone will disagree with that. After him though, there really isn’t much separation between the guys Law has ranked from two through about eight. You can rank those players in almost any order and it would be tough the argue. Either way, the Yankees need better results from their minor league system and that starts with rebound seasons from guys like Austin and Williams. Both will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter, so hopefully that 40-man roster spot serves as a nice carrot this summer.
One day after posting his farm system rankings, Keith Law released his list of the top 100 prospects in baseball today (1-50, 51-100, subs. req’d). Twins OF Byron Buxton tops the list and is the clear number one prospect in the game right now. No doubt about it. Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts and Athletics SS Addison Russell follow him to round out the top three. The Yankees landed three players on the list: C Gary Sanchez (#68), OF Tyler Austin (#85), and OF Mason Williams (#87). RHP Masahiro Tanaka was not eligible due to his time in Japan even though he’s technically a rookie/prospect.
In the write-up, Law says Sanchez “has huge upside as a hitter, with plus-plus raw power and very hard contact.” His defense behind the plate, while improved, continues to need work. “Even a grade-45 defender [on the 20-80 scouting scale] back there with Sanchez’s potential offensive upside will be an MVP candidate, and if he continues to work at receiving and on his plate discipline he’ll be ready to take over and make a real impact for the Yankees by 2016,” added Law. The comparisons to Jesus Montero are inevitable, but Montero showed more potential with the bat and was far worse defensively.
Austin’s appearance on the list is somewhat surprising given his underwhelming and injury hampered season, but Law says he believes in the bat enough to keep him on the list. “When healthy, Austin has a very sound swing that is geared both toward contact and power and is short to contact with good extension. He rotates his hips well to generate power, all with enough patience to keep his OBP in the .350 range,” he wrote. “He’ll be only about average in right field — making the necessary plays but not much more — so he needs to hit and hit for power to be a regular.”
Law has always been high on Williams, but his stock took a hit last summer because he showed up to camp out of shape and didn’t play with much energy throughout the season. The tools are still there though. “He is a potential Gold Glove defender in center, a future 70 on the 20-80 scale with good reads off the bat and bursting speed to chase down balls in the gaps … His ultimate outcome should be a high-average, doubles-power guy who might hit 15 homers in his best season, but even .290-plus with 50-60 walks and 10 homers with great defense is an above-average regular,” said Law. I guess that means Williams will be a $153M player down the road.
Here are the MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus lists, for reference. Sanchez is the Yankees’ only consensus top 100 prospect right now thanks to all the injuries and underperformance last year, and I suspect three top 100 guys is the most we’ll see this spring. I do think there’s a lot of potential for farm system improvement in 2014, which would require some of the injured players (Austin, Manny Banuelos, Ty Hensley) to stay healthy and last year’s top draft picks (Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, Gosuke Katoh) to live up to the hype. Every team has some interesting guys who can take steps forward, but the Yankees seem to have more than most.
Pitchers and catchers are not due to report for another 27 days, but pre-spring workouts are already underway at the team’s minor league complex in Tampa. Based on their Twitter feeds, a whole bunch of prospects are already in Florida preparing for the upcoming season. Here are some minor league notes courtesy of Chad Jennings. These are the major points, so make sure you click the link for all the info.
- OF Slade Heathcott had minor knee surgery earlier this offseason and may not be ready for the start of Spring Training. It has not yet been decided if he will return to Double-A Trenton or move up to Triple-A Scranton this year.
- Two of last year’s first rounders, 3B Eric Jagielo and OF Aaron Judge, could start the year with High-A Tampa or Low-A Charleston. No decision has been made yet. 2B Gosuke Katoh will be held back in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island in June.
- RHP Ty Hensley (hips) and LHP Manny Banuelos (elbow) are both healthy and ready for Spring Training. They were on normal throwing programs this winter. It is undecided where Hensley and LHP Ian Clarkin will open the season.
- C J.R. Murphy is staying behind the plate and will not see time at third base this year. “He’s a high caliber defender at a premium position … he’s turned out to be a very good catcher,” said VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman.
- OF Tyler Austin, meanwhile, will spend time at both infield corners in addition to his usual right field this season. “We’re going to maintain some of that flexibility with him,” said Newman.
- C/3B Peter O’Brien is considered a catcher and will remain there. He played third base quite a bit last year, but that was experiment that didn’t really work.
- All of the minor league affiliates announced their coaching staffs in recent weeks. Rather than repeat them all here, I’ll just link you to the press releases: Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, Low-A. If you’ve been following the farm system long enough, some names will be familiar. Lots of ex-prospects are coaches now.
The offseason has yet to really get underway, but there has already been talk of the Yankees going on a big spending spree to address their many needs this winter. I’m not sure where that money is coming from after putting together my most recent payroll breakdown, but that’s besides the point. New York has been connected to a ton of free agents so far, both big names like Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo and secondary players like Eric Chavez and Omar Infante. Needless to say, they’re getting around.
Free agency is the easiest way to address needs but it’s not the only way. The Yankees could also explore the trade market, a trade market that will reportedly feature high-end starters like Max Scherzer and David Price, young middle infielders like Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus, and pretty much everything in between. The trade market is like free agency — there’s a solution for every roster problem available if you’re willing to meet the asking price.
Therein lies the rub: the Yankees can’t meet too many asking prices these days. Not won’t meet asking prices, can’t. They don’t have many tradeable commodities either on the big league roster or in the farm system, and last winter’s Justin Upton trade talks showed how that can handicap them. The Diamondbacks reportedly did not like the prospects New York had to offer, so the young, power-hitting outfielder signing to a reasonable contract went to the Braves instead.
“I just don’t see it,” said one rival executive to Andy McCullough when asked whether the Yankees had the prospect inventory to swing a major trade this offseason. “I’m not excited about any of them making an impact next year,” added another evaluator while discussing the team’s top prospects while describing them as “solid guys, but not stars.”
The Yankees do have limited trade commodities right now but they aren’t completely devoid of marketable players. Some are just more marketable than others, or, as Brian Cashman likes to say, no one is unavailable but some are more available that others. Here’s a highly subjective rundown of New York’s best trade chips. Remember, at the end of the day, a player’s trade value is only as great as the other team’s evaluation of him.
Best Chip: Ivan Nova
In my opinion, Nova is the team’s best trade chip at this point in time. He turns 27 in January and has shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years. Ivan has not yet put together a full, productive season from start to finish, but he’s had stretches that make you think he could be very good if things ever completely click. It’s also worth noting Nova has thrown at least 150 innings every year since 2010 and at least 130 innings every year since 2008. Teams do value the ability to take the ball every fifth day.
Nova’s trade value is not as great as it was a year or two ago because he’s entering his arbitration years and is no longer dirt cheap, like league minimum dirt cheap. His projected $2.8M salary in 2014 is still a relative bargain, but trading for a guy owed $15M or so over the next three years isn’t as desirable as trading for the same guy when he is owed $16M or so over five years. This isn’t Nova’s fault obviously and getting three cheap years of a durable right-hander is still pretty awesome, but his years of team control are ticking away and he’s yet to really establish himself as … anything. He’s still a question mark.
Rentals: Brett Gardner and David Robertson
Both Gardner and Robertson are due to become free agents next winter, meaning they’re just rental players. Both will earn reasonable salaries next year — Gardner is projected for $4M, Robertson for $5.5M — and they both have their limitations on the field. Gardner is a defense-first outfielder who doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t steal as many bases as people think he can. Robertson is a late-inning reliever, meaning you’re only get 65 or so innings out of him. He’s a very good late-inning reliever of course, but one year of a reliever usually doesn’t fetch a huge package in return. The Yankees could flip these two for solid prospects or a similar rental player, but they’re not going to get that elite prospect or young big leaguer with several years of control remaining.
Warm Bodies: David Phelps and Adam Warren (maybe Vidal Nuno)
There will always be a market for cheap and young pitching. Phelps and Warren have four and five years of team control remaining, respectively, and they’ve had varying levels of success in the show. They’re far from established but have shown they belong in some capacity, either as back-end starters or relievers. Nuno has six full years of control left but is basically a complete unknown at the big league level. He is as close to ready as a pitcher can get, however. Every team needs cheap young arms to fill out a staff, but these guys are okay second and good third pieces in a significant trade, not centerpieces. Far from it.
Prospects: Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy and Rafael DePaula
Baseball has become a young player’s game these last five or six years or so, but I think we’ve reached the point where prospects and (especially) draft picks are being overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, they’re important and you need them to succeed, but they’re being valued higher than established big leaguers and that isn’t always the case. Not even close.
Anyway, Sanchez and Murphy are probably the Yankees’ two best prospect trade chips because a) Sanchez is their very best prospect, and b) Murphy is a big league ready-ish catcher. Quality young catchers are very hard to find and teams have consistently shown they will overpay — either in trades or by reaching in the draft — to get their hands on one. DePaula is the team’s best pitching prospect but he’s still in Single-A ball. Heathcott had an up-and-down season in Double-A but has a lengthy injury history. High ceiling but also high risk. Sanchez and Murphy could headline a package for a non-star player, but Heathcott and DePaula are closer to throw-ins in the grand scheme of things.
Suspects: Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Jose Ramirez
Injury of ineffectiveness — Austin, Williams, and Ramirez all had down 2013 seasons for one of those two reasons. Sometimes both. They’re basically buy low candidates, prospects with considerable ceilings who either need to get healthy or fix their mechanics or have their attitude adjusted. If I was another club and talking trade with the Yankees, these are the guys I would be asking for as the final piece in a trade package. Take a shot on one without the deal hinging on their success. There are too many question marks for any of them to be the top guy in a deal for an established big leaguer at this point. I just don’t see how another club would go for that.
Wednesday: Austin’s wrist is indeed flaring up again, according to Norris. It is not serious but the team is shutting him down for precautionary reasons.
Tuesday: Via Josh Norris: OF Tyler Austin has been removed from the Arizona Fall League for an unknown reason and will be replaced by a player from a different organization. He appeared in four games for the Scottsdale Scorpions but hasn’t played in a week now, so it might be injury related. Austin missed approximately two months with a bone bruise in his wrist over the summer. He went 4-for-12 (.333) with a triple, two walks, and one strikeout (149 wRC+) with Scottsdale before leaving the desert.
The Yankees are sending OF Mason Williams, OF Tyler Austin, and C/3B Peter O’Brien to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League after the season. Each team sends seven guys to the AzFL, so New York must still name four more players. Expect most if not all of them to be pitchers. The entire Scottsdale roster is right here.
Josh Norris says Austin (101 wRC+) will spend some time working out at first base with the Scorpions. He’s played the position plenty in the past. Austin was placed on the Double-A Trenton DL with a bone bruise in his right wrist in mid-July, though he did play in his first rehab game with the Rookie GCL Yanks this afternoon. He’ll be making up for lost time in the AzFL. Williams has had a down year at the plate (87 wRC+), so hopefully he’ll rebound in the extreme hitter’s environment. O’Brien has had a strong year (146 wRC+) and will look to continue progressing.
Via Chad Jennings: LHP Manny Banuelos has been throwing batting practice at the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa. He had Tommy John surgery last October. According to Mike Dodd’s classic TJS rehab article, Banuelos should begin pitching in game action relatively soon. I suppose he could make some winter ball starts after the season if the team is comfortable with his rehab. The 22-year-old made just six starts last year before hurting his elbow, so he’s missed nearly two full developmental years. I ranked Banuelos as the team’s 12th best prospect last month.
In other prospect injury news, OF Tyler Austin could be close to playing in games with the team’s Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliate. He’s been out since mid-July with a bone bruise in his right wrist. The GCL season ends this coming Thursday — the other leagues end the following week — so there aren’t a whole lot of games left to play this year. I do think Austin is a prime Arizona Fall League candidate, however. Before the injury, he was hitting a disappointing .254/.344/.367 (101 wRC+) with six homers in 358 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton. I ranked Austin as the club’s fourth best prospect last month.
Here’s a link of interest: David Laurila of FanGraphs recently spoke to top outfield prospects Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin during Double-A Trenton’s recently trip to Portland. Both players spoke about their offensive approach and swings, as did Thunder hitting coach Justin Turner. They talked about adjustments they’ve made, things they’re working on, stuff like that. It’s a very interesting and informative ready. Both guys seem to get it, so to speak. Check it out.