With Greg Bird on the mend, Tyler Austin's days appear numbered
When Greg Bird went down with another ankle injury during Spring Training, it became clear that Tyler Austin would be given a golden opportunity to prove himself. It was also plain to see that this was possibly his last chance to stick around with the Yankees. The year started off with a bang for Austin, as the 26-year-old first baseman was hitting .290 with five home runs and 16 RBI on April 26th. Pair this with the fact that platoon-mate Neil Walker was hitting .172 at the time, and Tyler Austin was running away with the first base job. It seemed for sure that Walker, not Austin, would be the odd man out when Bird eventually returned.
|Photo Credit: AP|
After that, everything changed. On April 27th, Tyler Austin began serving his four-game suspension for his involvement in the Fenway Park brawl earlier that month. Since then, Austin has not recorded a single hit. He is 0-19 in the month of May with nine strikeouts. In that time, his batting average has dropped to .222 and his OPS has gone down from .991 to .774. Conversely, Neil Walker remembered how to hit a baseball. He has raised his batting average to .210 and has been looked more like the player he has been for 10 years. A .210 average is certainly nothing to write home about, but he is 9-25 in his last nine games and has been at the center of several of the Yankees’ dramatic, comeback wins. Now it appears that the versatile veteran, Walker, has beaten out Austin.
|Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images|
Another layer in all of this is the fact that Greg Bird is progressing well with his aforementioned ankle injury. Bird began his rehab assignment last Thursday with High-A Tampa and is now moving on to Double-A Trenton. If there are no setbacks, Bird should be back by the end of May. At that time, the Yankees are going to have to decide what to do at first base. Greg Bird has proven that, when healthy, his left-handed bat plays beautifully at Yankee Stadium. Bird has 20 home runs in only 304 career at-bats. With Bird healthy, one of Austin or Walker will have to go.
|Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin|
Aside from the recent returns, Neil Walker has a 10-year track record of being a quality, professional hitter. Tyler Austin has shown flashes, and probably has more upside than Walker, but he also doesn’t provide the Yankees with the type of position versatility that Walker does. Walker can play first, second and third base. It’s also worth mentioning that Tyler Austin can be optioned to Triple-A and recalled if Bird’s faulty foot becomes a problem once again.
Baseball is a game of numbers, and one of those numbers is 25. Sometimes teams have to make difficult roster choices, and the Yankees have a few on their hands. Tyler Austin is going to get a few more opportunities to prove himself in the coming weeks, with the first possibly coming tonight against lefty Gio Gonzalez. If he doesn’t get back to playing like he did in April, he will likely be the odd man out.
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