Aaron Boone put it out there: Tyler Austin has a chance to be more than a space holder with the Yankees. And that is regardless of whoever is perceived to be ahead of him on the roster.
Austin is not just occupying a roster spot until first baseman Greg Bird returns from his foot surgery. “Opportunity knocks,’’ Boone said Tuesday. “People kick in doors sometimes. Sure, this is a great opportunity.’’
It’s not Austin’s first time to make an impression, but injuries also seem to interfere. He sustained a fractured left foot in spring training last year and when he returned in June, he quickly strained his hamstring. His season amounted to 20 games. In 2016, he and Aaron Judge became the first major league teammates to homer in their first career at-bats.
Bird, who also fights the label of being injury-prone, has the bigger upside when he’s healthy. He’s an excellent first baseman and his power suggests he could be a player who contributes 30 home runs a season.
Austin can play first base or the outfield. He was the designated hitter Tuesday in the rain-delayed home opener agaisnt the Rays.
Austin will not engage in any conversation that pits him against Bird, saying, “I’m just here to play baseball. Whatever the opportunity is given to me I’m just here to play to the best of my ability. I’m not going to say any more than that. Greg and I are friends. I’m going to try to take advantage of any opportunity that I’m getting.
“I think that if I go out and play the game that I know how to play, try to enjoy myself, I think, yeah, there should be a spot on this team for me. I believe that I’m a really good player. But like I said I’m not trying to take anything away from anybody else. I’m just here to play baseball.’’
The depth chart over the winter likely would not have had Austin making the team. “I tried not to pay attention to it, to be honest,’’ Austin said. “I focused pretty hard on my offseason training, my diet, I tried to work with a hitting coach in Tampa. So, my days were wrapped up in getting my food, working out, going to the complex, going to the hitting guy.’’
Austin knows how hard it is to make the Yankees. Much less remain in the majors. “It’s a very difficult thing to get up here,’’ he said. “This is a special place. Not everybody gets an opportunity to play with the New York Yankees, so I’m just trying to cherish each moment that I have in here and out on that field and play as hard as I can.’’
Austin had two homers in a loss to the Blue Jays on Saturday. “It was just another game,’’ he said.
Even if the homers tied him for the team lead with Giancarlo Stanton? “That guy’s a monster,’’ Austin said.
Boone likes what he has seen, saying of Austin, “Strong, real strong. Power to all fields. And I think, a key for him is just staying healthy. He’s been bitten by the injury bug that’s kinda slowed his progression a little bit.
“We’re excited for him that he was able to have a spring where he was healthy, where he performed and has played himself into the mix based on a couple of things that have happened and obviously had a huge day up in Toronto. (I’m) hopeful we can get more of that production and more of that power when he’s in there.’’