TRENTON, NJ – We all know the story. Turn back the clock a few years, to a warm early April afternoon in 2013 that served as that season’s Trenton Thunder Media Day.
We still have the photo of the Opening Day outfield from that year – a highly rated trio of former top draft pick Slade Heathcott in center, flanked by Top 100 prospect Tyler Austin and an up-and-coming, hustling kid named Ramon Flores.
Three years later, Flores has earned a roster spot with the Milwaukee Brewers, Heathcott had a successful taste of the majors with the Yankees last season and Austin is back in Trenton, where things looked so rosy in 2013. To many prospect watchers, Austin, once rated No. 77 by Baseball America, was all but forgotten.
A wrist injury that first surfaced in 2013, and bothered him for the better part of three seasons, a knee, and an ankle, kept Austin from fully playing at full strength. The wrist, however, was the key problem. Anyone who has had a wrist issue knows it can take a long time to heal.
Meanwhile, the Yankees designated Austin for assignment after the 2015 season to remove him from the 40-man roster. He went unclaimed and was outrighted to Trenton, where the clouds are finally clearing on his career. He still is only 24.
“It (the wrist) really affected me for parts of the last three years,” said Austin, prior to the Thunder’s game with Harrisburg in Arm&Hammer Park. “Finally, that seems to be all behind me. I feel good, having fun and following my routine.
“So far, it seems to be working,” added Austin, who is hitting a solid .282 (24-for-85) with two home runs and 14 RBIs entering Sunday play.He has worked 16 walks and has put together an OPS of .835 in 25 games while playing first base.
Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell certainly appreciates Austin’s contributions so far this season.
“Tyler has been great in the clubhouse and on the field for us,” Mitchell said. “He is very focused in his routine, sticking to it and keeping things simple. He knows what works for him. It’s been good.”
Prior to the wrist issues, Austin, a native of Conyers, Ga., was a power prospect. He hit 17 home runs and drive in 80 runs in 2012, splitting most of his time between Class-A stops Charleston and Tampa, with a two-game stint in Trenton at the end of the season. leading to that media day with Heathcott and Flores that seems so long ago.
“It’s just nice to get back to feeling healthy and doing what I know I can do,” he said. “I have a routine that I’ve gotten used to, really keeping it simple, concentrating on what I need to be successful.”
Friday night, Austin hit a long, opposite-field home run, something he used to do a lot of, but also something that has been absent the last few seasons. That lost power may be returning.
“I’ve got to say that home run felt good in a lot of ways,” he confirmed.
Austin is playing a solid first base, and has made some plays that saved some throwing errors. This stretch has been his best in awhile, and is drawing notice, His Yankees system future can still go a few different ways, but he appears to finally be back on track.