When Greg Bird suffered an ankle injury just days before the regular season began, some thought the New York Yankees’ lineup would suffer greatly. But in the first baseman’s absence, Tyler Austin has stepped up and answered the call. And Austin has played so well to the point where manager Aaron Boone and the Yankees should stick with him as their starting first baseman.
Austin has gotten off to a superb start at the plate this season. Hitting .305 to go along with five home runs and 16 RBIs going into Thursday afternoon, he has been playing the best baseball of his career and is making a very good showing for himself. And it’s a breakout stretch that was never supposed to happen.
Going into Training Camp, the Yankees were intent on starting Bird at first base, hoping he would blossom into a household name at the position. Unfortunately for Bird, the injury bug has continued to decimate his career, which is a major factor when it comes to relying on him being an everyday player. Considering those woes, as well as Bird’s inconsistent presence at the plate, Austin is ultimately the better option and player for the Yankees to roll with.
With Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius hitting at Most Valuable Player-levels, as well as Giancarlo Stanton (who’s beginning to come around after a slow start), Gary Sanchez, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks in place, Austin’s hot start makes a dangerous Yankees’ lineup formidable. Austin does need to work on limiting the strikeouts and garnering plate discipline (Austin has recorded 25 strikeouts in 17 games this season), but the aggressive plate approach has been the reason why he’s had success. He’s hitting for power, but the high batting average, in a way, offsets the home run plate approach.
Austin has never been given a consistent role in the Yankees’ organization. He’s been sent down to Triple-A multiple times and struggling to hit for average prior to this season was a big reason for it. But so far this year, Austin has excelled and is making the most of the chance to start everyday; he’s hungry, determined, and a different player.With Greg Bird on the shelf, Tyler Austin has earned himself the full-time first baseman position with the @Yankees.Click To Tweet
Sure, Bird showcased the ability to be a power lefty bat back in 2015 when he hit 11 home runs in 46 games. But that was three years ago. Ever since that power surge, he’s missed a full season, played just 48 games the ensuing year, and has yet to step foot on a diamond in 2018. Bird is also a career .227 hitter who has been shaky when it comes to fielding his position and has played just 94 games since being called up in 2015.
Yes, Bird hit a monumental home run off Andrew Miller — who is arguably the best reliever in baseball — in the American League Divisional Series last season and hit two other long balls in the postseason. Besides the postseason home runs and his 2015 power surge, what has Bird shown that indicates he’ll be a franchise player or reliable first baseman down the road? Injuries, inconsistency, and a low batting average have been detrimental to his growth. The Yankees find themselves getting the production from Austin that they’ve always aspired to see from Bird — which has been a huge plus for their offense.
Now, will Austin drive in 100 runs and finish the season batting over .300? Probably not, but he’s playing and hitting at a high level. Why would Boone and the Yankees ever consider taking that bat and production out of their everyday order? If Austin skids over time and Bird begins to prove himself, then Boone can switch or platoon the two. But the Yankees should feel comfortable starting Austin at first for the foreseeable future and even when Bird comes off the disabled list; they should continue to play the best first baseman in the organization.
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