Twins: With Postseason Aspirations in Mind, 2019 is a Crucial Year for Tyler Austin

When Tyler Austin was a member of the New York Yankees organization, he was never thought of as an elite prospect, despite putting up strong numbers. On the day after Alex Rodriguez‘s last game signaling a turn to youth, Austin was called up in August 2016, the same day as Aaron Judge, hitting back-to-back first career homers with Judge. However, when the “Baby Bombers” arrived, Austin was on the peripheral from the likes of Judge, Luis Severino, Greg Bird, and Gary Sanchez. With that said, Austin had his moments the first few months of his career, including a walk-off home run keeping the Yankees in the postseason race even though they were sellers at the trade deadline.

The next few years were up and down for Austin with a number of contributing factors. Injuries were part of it, especially when he fractured his foot in February 2017 which might have been his best chance to earn the first baseman job. Also, with all the expectations that surround the Yankees, if Austin was cold for a few weeks, they would pivot to someone else.

It’s clear Yankees general manager Brian Cashman prefers young players have options, which we saw was important when Brandon Drury was sent to Triple-A because Miguel Andujar took the third base job and ran with it. So when Cashman acquired Luke Voit who has options from the St. Louis Cardinals, and Austin’s options were set to expire, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins.

Although Austin was in the Yankees’ organization for over eight years, the Twins are a fresh start that is able to provide an enhanced role for a player that’s proven he can play in the big leagues. Whether he can do it on a consistent basis has been a weakness, and this year Austin has to find that constant production. Since Austin is out of options, it will help him make the 25-man roster on Opening Day, yet similarly to his time in New York, there are other alternatives to play.

With the @Twins being on the cusp of a postseason berth, newly-acquired Tyler Austin has a make-or-break chance to contribute in front of him.Click To Tweet

Joe Mauer retired at the end of the 2018 season, paving the way for Austin to be the frontrunner to be the Twins first baseman. Last year was a down year for the Twins, and this winter hiring first time manager Rocco Baldelli, the thought was they’d develop their players another year and continue to build. This offseason has shown otherwise signing first baseman C.J. Cron, and designated hitter Nelson Cruz, which happens to be Austin’s two positions.

Perhaps the competition will only motivate Austin who knows he has to maximize his time on the field, even if he is a part time player. Austin’s game is very similar to Cron as a power hitter who strikes out his fair share. In 2018, Austin had 95 strikeouts in 69 games, which the Twins can tolerate because they knew the type of player Austin is, then doubled down bringing Cron to Minnesota. The unknown is will it come with 25-30 home runs or 15-20 home runs?

Cruz is another power hitter, and is one of the top designated hitters in the game. He has played in at least 150 games in four of the past five seasons, therefore Austin will primarily get his at-bats at first base. In addition, signing Jonathan Schoop along with Cruz to one year deals shows the Twins want to be in the conversation for a Wild Card spot. The Oakland Athletics won 97 games and the second Wild Card spot last year, but they were as much of a surprise as the Twins were in 2017. The Tampa Bay Rays appear to be in the mix as well, after they shattered expectations a year ago.

The Twins are in a subpar American League Central, and the Cleveland Indians do remain the favorites to win the division. However, if the Twins can take advantage of the division they’re in, a bounce back season can definitely occur.

Over the last 12 months, Austin was the face of a Yankees-Red Sox brawl, traded from the only franchise he’s ever known, to preparing for what is a critical season for him in his first full year with the Twins. He’ll get his opportunity to prove his worth, and if he doesn’t, his career may depend on it.

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