Tyler Austin has not regularly played the infield since 2011. But in his Arizona Fall League debut last night, Austin started at first base, and he’s actually listed as an infielder on the Scottsdale roster.
It’s not necessarily a mistake. Mark Newman emailed this morning to say Austin is going to play first base, third base and right field in Arizona this offseason.
“Flexibility,” Newman explained.
Fair enough, but a look through the Yankees minor league system shows the team is stockpiling options at third base. And a look at the bigger picture shows it’s happening as Alex Rodriguez’s future becomes remarkably uncertain, Dante Bichette continues to struggle, and no in-house option has emerged as a clear successor at the position.
• Austin, who moved from the infield corners to right field in 2012, is now playing the infield again. He didn’t play a single game in the infield during the regular season, but now third base is back on the table.
• Peter O’Brien, drafted last year as a catcher out of the University of Miami, shifted primarily to third base in the second half of this season. He’s going to play third base and catcher in the Fall League, but he’s caught only 12 times since June 21. He’d been exclusively a catcher before that.
• Eric Jagielo, a third baseman from Notre Dame, was the Yankees top draft pick this year. Having recently focused their first-round picks on high-risk high school players, the Yankees changed that approach to add a fairly polished college third baseman.
• Rob Segedin, who in 2012 moved primarily from third base to right field, moved back to third base this year. He played exclusively in the infield before being shutdown by hip surgery.
• Ronnier Mustelier, who barely played third base in 2011 and played roughly a quarter of his games at third base in 2012, essentially split his time 50/50 between third base and the outfield this season.
• Not a position change, but if we’re discussing third base, it’s certainly worth noting that a young Dominican player named Miguel Andujar had a very nice year as a third baseman in the Gulf Coast League this season.
Some of these were natural additions and transformations — Segedin was on a roster full of outfielders this season, Mustelier also played on a team that occasionally had more need for an infielder, the Yankees have a history of testing catchers at the infield corners — but there is a noticeable increase in third base options within the organization. And it’s come at a time when third base is a real question moving forward.
Associated Press photo