On the day he was drafted, Tyler Austin was labeled as a catcher. The Yankees quickly put him at the infield corners, where he played through his first full year as a professional. Last season, the Yankees moved Austin to right field, and he had his breakout year as a prospect.
Today, though, it’s third base that stands out as a growing concern in the Yankees organization. The team’s minor league system has several outfield prospects, but Alex Rodriguez is headed for another hip surgery and Dante Bichette Jr. had a disappointing first full season as a professional.
This winter, the Yankees at least considered the idea of moving Austin back to third base, but they ultimately decided to keep him in right field for the time being.
“He’s a better defender in right,” vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. “But (putting him back at third) is something we’ve thought about. It’s a possibility.”
The Yankees still expect Rodriguez to come back from his latest injury, and they have him under contract for the next five years. They have a hole in right field as well, so it’s not as if Austin is blocked if he stays in the outfield.
But third base is clearly a point of interest, if not concern, for the Yankees. Rodriguez is declining, Bichette hit just three home runs last season, and Rob Segedin hasn’t shown typical third-base power (he’s also gotten more time in the outfield lately, and he struggled after this year’s a mid-season promotion to Double-A). Right now, David Adams might be the Yankees top third base prospect, but he missed nearly two full seasons with an ankle injury and has seen far more time at second base than at third.
Austin, on the other hand, has emerged as an elite young hitter. He just turned 21 in September and hit .322/.400/.559 while climbing from Low-A to Double-A last season. He actually impressed the Yankees with his adjustment to the outfield, and although eventually moving him back to third base hasn’t been ruled out, but it’s not part of the Yankees plans at the moment.
“He can do that,” Newman said. “”We’ve got flexibility, which is not a bad thing to have.”