Tyler Austin has put up impressive offensive numbers at pretty much every stop in his minor league career, and prospect watchers are beginning to take notice. I certainly include myself among people who have underrated Austin throughout his short career, probably unfairly, because he didn’t have an elite draft pedigree or play a premium position. As a guy who is likely limited to a corner outfield positions, the Austin’s offensive production needs to be very strong for him to be taken seriously as a legitimate prospect.
Evaluating players in the lower minors solely on the basis of numbers is problematic, since the level of competition is not always strong. At the lower levels, pitchers likely have inferior command, weak secondary offerings, and lower velocity than more advanced pitchers, which could allow a hitter with significant flaws to put up impressive numbers. It is still too early to tell whether this is the case with Austin, but with every day of continued success (and every rave from a scout who has seen him in person) it becomes increasingly less likely.
Austin came out of the gate on fire in April, batting .345/.383/.828 with 9 homers, a torrid pace that while impressive, was almost certainly unsustainable. Austin has come back to earth somewhat in May, as Sally League pitcher have begun to make adjustments to him. Still, a .253/.340/.471 line for the month, with 4 more homers, is not too shabby, Austin still leads the league in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. At 20 years of age Austin is not old for the league either, so there is definitely a lot to like about his performance. Also worthy of note is that Austin’s road numbers are much better than his home numbers (1.188 OPS on the road vs. .840 at home). I’m not sure what Charleston’s park factor is these days, but if it has been playing as a pitcher-friendly park then it is possible that Austin’s numbers could be even better.
If Austin continues this performance, he will go from a guy who struggled to make organizational top 10 lists going into the season to a likely top 100 prospect. In fact, Keith Law recently said that he would consider Austin for his top 50, high praise from an analyst who tends to rely more on scouting than on numbers. Of course, to maintain this status, Law and other will expect Austin to continue to rake, as he has so far this season, while continuing to show that he can be a solid defender in the outfield. The Yankees could wind up promoting Austin to Tampa if he continues to hit well, since his advanced offensive skill-set could probably respond well to a fast-tracking. Regardless of how Austin does for the rest of the season, and where he ends up, the Yankees look to have an exciting offensive prospect on their hands.
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