The Yankees selected Austin in the 13th round of the 2010 draft, though Austin ultimately got just four plate appearances in rookie ball that season. He got his first real taste of professional action in 2011, where he hit .390/.438/.622 with three home runs and 12 extra base hits in 89 plate appearances for the Gulf Coast Yankees before being promoted to the Staten Island Yankees. There, he helped the Baby Bombers to the New York-Penn League Championship by hitting .323/.402/.542. On the whole, he finished 2011 with a .354/.418/.579 line between the lowest levels of the minors.
Austin can hit. Profound, I know, but there’s really no need to gild this lily. Austin displays plus contact and patience with good present power and excellent potential. With Jesus Montero gone, Austin is probably the system’s most complete hitter, and if he continues to flash his mix of contact, power, and discipline, I think there’s a good chance he might not be long for the low minors. Certainly, I’d hope the Yankees make sure he’s being challenged at the plate, and not merely putting his time in at a level. Though certainly not a speedster, Austin does have good athleticism and foot speed, as well as solid arm strength, which allowed the Yankees to move him to right field to accommodate having Austin and 2011 top pick Dante Bichette Jr. in the same lineup. Keith Law named him as the Yankees’ best “sleeper” prospect this winter, while I ranked him as the 14th best prospect in the Yankees’ system.
If everything goes well, Austin’s ceiling is that of an All-Star major league hitter. You don’t want to forget that he’s just a 20 year old getting his first taste of Low-A ball, but so far there haven’t been any holes in his offensive game exposed or exploited, and Austin has flat out raked for his entire professional career. I suppose you could complain that he’s only walked twice in his first 34 plate appearances this season, but when you’ve got a .438 batting average and are slugging 1.031, you may need to give up a few walks here and there in the process.
Defensively, Austin doesn’t have a locked down position yet, but that’s really no big deal at this point. He’s still young, and still at the low levels of the minors, but he’s proven to have good versatility, moving between the corner infield spots and now rightfield, but in any case he’s a bat first guy who, again, if everything goes right, is going to find a spot to play once the offense is big league ready.
The question will be how quickly Austin can move through the system if he continues to hit, and/or how much his defense will need to be accounted for. Personally I’d like the Yankees promote him aggressively based on the bat, because that’s where Austin is going make his bones. The team has options in the corner outfield and third base, and obviously have Mark Teixeira locked up for the foreseeable future at first base, so trying to pick a position for a player at Low-A at this point is pointless. Austin could end up playing rightfield, third base, first base, or even winding up as a DH in the long run, but as long as he hits, it won’t really matter.
And, boy, can he ever hit.