YFU Exclusive Interview with Tyler Austin
Anyone who follows Yankees prospects has heard of Tyler Austin and for those that haven’t, remember the name. Austin has followed up his big 2011 season in which he hit .354/.418/.579/.997 with an even stronger performance in his first taste of full-season ball in Low A Charleston. He leads the South Atlantic League in HRs, Triples, Extra-Base Hits, SLG% & OPS. On a team full of promising young Yankee prospects like Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams & Dante Bichette – Austin has more HRs (10) than the rest of his teammates combined (8).
To give some background, Tyler grew up in Conyers, GA and as one of the top prospects in the nation, his senior year should have been one of the best times in his life as he prepped for the MLB Draft. However, during that time, he was diagnosed with testicular Cancer in the middle of Showcase Season for the Draft and had to undergo surgery to remove the cancer. Thankfully, the surgery was successful and his Cancer has been in remission ever since.
He was drafted by the Yankees in the 13th Round in 2010 and signed for an over-slot bonus of $125,000. Soon after reporting to the Gulf Coast League, he suffered a season-ending hand injury so his first season really wasn’t til last yr. He began 2011 in the GCL and tore it up hitting .390 in 22 games before being promoted to Staten Island where he hit .323/.402/.943 in leading them to the NY-Penn League Championship. He was also a combined 18 for 18 in SBs between levels.
He’s a 6’2″ 210 pound Right-handed Hitter who played 3B & 1B last year but has been playing RF for Charleston thus far. I rated him as the 10th best Yankee prospect in early January and the major publications basically all had him in the 11-20 range with John Sickels rating him highest at 9th. I was able to talk to Tyler for about 15-20 minutes this week to discuss his time with the Yankees and the obstacles he has overcome. Here is that interview with my questions in Blue
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Growing up in Georgia, you must have been an Atlanta Braves fan right?
No sir! I actually get this question a lot. I was actually a Yankees fan. My Grandmother was a Yankees fan her whole entire life, how she became one is beyond me but she had me buy into it. While watching them, she’d call me in there, sit me down, make me watch the games with her – I always enjoyed watching Jeter play.
When did you go through the testicular Cancer ordeal and how much time did you miss as a result?
The beginning of my Senior yr in HS in 2009. It was very, very, very scary. I never thought I’d have to go through anything like that at such a young age, but I did and became a better person because of it. I really didn’t miss any time. I missed the East Coast Pro Showcase I was supposed to be attending. That Thursday I had the surgery, the following week I was on a plane to San Diego and was playing the next Sunday in the Aflac All-American Games.
That’s incredible. How did it come about that they found the cancer?
It just hurt really bad one day. I put it off for a week or two thinking it would go away, then finally I couldn’t bear the pain anymore and I told my Mom, she took me to the hospital. They told me there that they were 99% sure I had a cancerous tumor. I had to go to a specialist the next day and he told me the same thing – we scheduled the surgery for 2 or 3 days after that. they went in, took it out and I’ve been free ever since.
After the surgery, were they able to tell you it was a success?
They told me they were pretty sure it hadn’t spread throughout my body but I went through a lot of tests to check my white blood cells were OK.
You were committed to Kennesaw State your Senior year, what were your thoughts leading up to the draft?
I thought I would be a pretty high pick. Obviously I didn’t think I’d be going to school – school just wasn’t for me, it wasn’t my thing. Once the Yankees took me, it was pretty much decided I would sign.
When the Yankees took you, was Catching ever in the equation?
I caught my Junior and senior year in HS but when I was signed it was as a Third Baseman and Outfielder.
After you signed, explain what kept you out in 2010 after reporting to the Gulf Coast League.
My 4th Ab after I signed, I got hit by a pitch and broke a bone in my left hand. Right before that I got the flu and missed a week before that and right when I start playing I break my hand and I’m like – what else can go wrong? They wanted me to take the rest of that full year off and I did so I didn’t start swinging a bat again until January.
So you were finally healthy last yr in 2011 and tore up the Gulf Coast League – got promoted to Staten Island and hit well there also. How was the competition compared to HS?
It was definitely a lot different from HS but I saw a lot of guys like that in showcases and during travel ball that pitched like that, I wasnt too surprised by the way I performed last year.
After playing 3B & 1B last yr, what did the organization tell you about positions for this season and going forward?
They said I’m still gonna play third,, still gonna play first a little bit but they wanna see how I do in RF and I’ve made a pretty good adjustment out there so far and I feel real comfortable so that’s pretty much the position right now. I definitely think I’ll get some time in at 3B & 1B just a matter of when and where.
What position would you say you are most comfortable at?
I’m more comfortable in RF right now but with some more reps and experience I could get better at Third & First, that comes with confidence.
What’s your approach and game plan at the plate?
I just go up there and tell myself I need to be short, smooth and lethal and usually things take care of themselves. That’s a little thing I bought into from one of the guys on the team last year.
I like that approach – short, smooth & lethal - who gave you that tip?
You have been popping HRs all over the field – pulling them, straight away and opposite field. Are you trying to hit the ball the opposite way?
My approach is to drive the ball to the right side of the field. When Im driving the ball to the right side that’s usually when Im going pretty good.
Have you always looked to drive the ball the other way or is that something the organization has asked you to do?
I think its something I developed a little over the last few years. Staying inside of the baseball and hitting the ball to the middle and right side of the field and that’s something that’s worked out pretty well. When I’m going good that’s what I’m doing.
How has it been working with the coaching staff and what have you learned from working with Greg Colbrunn, an ex-Major Leaguer?
He’s great I love working with him. All of our coaches are great and teach us a ton. Colby has taught me a lot, he knows what he’s talking about. I listen to everything he says, he’s a great guy in general who knows a ton about this game.
What do you attribute your hot start to and are you surprised by the results?
I’m just getting good pitches and putting a good swing on it. I’m not really too surprised about the results so far.
Have pitchers been changing the way they pitch to you since word has gotten around about your success?
They definitely have over the last few games started pitching me a little differently. More breaking balls in fastball counts stuff like that. Nothing too bad but I definitely see a difference.
What was it like facing Dylan Bundy (#1 pick by Baltimore Orioles – hyped as next Strasburg) last night?
He throws hard. He has good stuff. But I wouldn’t say as overpowering as everybody makes it out to be. Not to take anything away from him. He’s a great pitcher but I think the hype was a bit much.
How about Tim Hudson? You guys faced him twice during his rehab. that must have been fun for a kid from Conyers, Georgia?
It was a big thing for me facing Tim Hudson. A guy like him is an unbelievable pitcher, a guy that I watched a lot in my life because I used to go to a lot of Braves games.
What do you need to improve on to develop as a player?
Every aspect of my game I need to improve on. As soon as you think you have something figured out in this game you might as well hang it up.
On a stacked team with highly regarded players, do you ever feel like an underdog and use it as motivation?
I don’t think so. I’m not worried about all that. I have to go out here and play and perform for my team and myself. Work hard and not get caught up in expectations. It does nothing but put added pressure on you that you don’t need.
Which teammate has impressed you so far?
Ali Castillo has only been here for a week. He works hard, he fires everybody up, he’s an unbelievable guy to have on the field with you every day.
Thank for your time Tyler and good luck the rest of the season!