If it seems like you've been hearing a lot about Yankee prospects this year...well, then it's like any other year. But there's no East Coast Bias in this case. No no no... If anything, they're not getting enough hype. Lo-A Charleston is absolutely loaded for them, starting with Mason Williams, and continuing on to Dante Bichette, Jr, Jose Campos, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver and last but most definitely not least, today's Prospect Preview subject... Tyler Austin.
Learn about Tyler Austin after the jump...
Austin began his pro career as a 13th round draft pick, signing for an above-slot $130,000. He didn't perform that summer after breaking his wrist in his second game, and proceeded to tear up the Gulf Coast League upon his return in 2011. He earned himself a promotion by hitting .390 with 3 home runs and 11 stolen bases, and continued that success in short-season Staten Island hitting .323/.402/.542 in just under 100 at-bats. Between the two levels Austin posted a .354/.418/.579 slash line with six home runs, and was a perfect 18 for 18 in stolen bases as a 19 year-old making essentially his first appearance in pro ball. Impressive to say the least. So far in 2012 he has done nothing to dissuade me from believing he was an absolute steal for the Yankees. Austin has had an April to remember, laying waste to the South Atlantic League with a .358/.384/.877 slash line. Austin has 29 hits on the year with an unbelievable 20 (TWENTY!!!!) of them going for extra bases (7 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR). That does come with an 18:4 K:BB ratio, who can really complain? While Austin's walk rate in down 4% from 2011,and yes, it's a small sample size (and that applies to all his stats), his strikeout rate has dropped a percent as well. I would expect his walk rate to improve and strikeout rate to remain similar as the year wears on, due to his impressive approach at the plate. Oh yeah...he's gone 2-2 in stolen bases to cap it all off.
Plenty of players have put up dominant numbers in Lo-A, so it's important to take a look at the tools Austin brings to the table. Austin was drafted as a catcher and has already seen time at first and third base in his career. In 2012 he has been in the corner outfield, and has taken to it quite well. Austin stands 6'2, 200 lbs., and displays good pull power with a patient approach. He's taken to Yankee instructions regarding using the whole field, and has the power to hit the ball out anywhere. Austin's advanced approach isn't limited to having a good idea of the strike zone as he already does a good job of identifying off-speed pitches and knows when he can turn on them. A solid athlete, Austin has transitioned well to the outfield, though he can't afford to lose any of his speed or athleticism as he matures unless he wants to end up at first base. He probably has the bat to play there, but he'd be far more valuable in an outfield corner. His arm is his lone above-average tool in the field, and certainly he'll find more use for it in the outfield compared to first base. While his stolen bases make him look like the complete package offensively, those were stolen more on instinct for the game than true speed. As he moves up the ladder I expect him to attempt fewer and fewer steals, though he could always remain a high percentage guy who knows when to grab a bag.
Going forward, I expect a bit of regression for Austin this season, though I wouldn't go so far as to call this a fluke. It's certainly at the far end of the spectrum for his production, but he might prove to be too advanced for his level right now. If he continues to rake in a similar fashion I'd expect him to earn a promotion, though if he tails off at all I wouldn't be surprised to see him stay at Lo-A along with his prospect teammates. If you can buy on Austin now...go ahead and do it. If you have to wait til the offseason, your cover is likely blown as he has a good chance at making some top 100 lists. This is a legit breakout, so you should react accordingly.