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Yankees prospect Tyler Austin tries to keep big-league fantasies from being a distraction

Staten Island Yankees third baseman Tyler Austin bats

Staten Island Yankees third baseman Tyler Austin bats during Game 1 of the NY-Penn League Championship Series against the Auburn Doubledays at Falcon Park. (Sept. 12, 2011) Credit: AP

TRENTON -- Tyler Austin was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the Yankees' organization by entering the season. The 21-year-old was named the organization's minor-league player of the year last season. And Yankees general manager Brian Cashman labeled the outfielder a "mega-prospect'' last August.

All of that has put Austin on the fast track to join the Yankees, possibly as early as next year.

But he isn't looking that far ahead.

Speaking before a game for the Double-A Trenton Thunder that was played on a cold April night in front of a sparse crowd at Arm & Hammer Park, Austin was more concerned with breaking out of a slump than his future.

"It's definitely a process,'' said Austin, who is hitting .262 with one homer and 10 RBIs for Trenton. "I don't feel like I'm close. I don't think about it, honestly. I've got to try to help the team here win. I don't have time to think about the big-league thing. If it happens, it happens. If not, then you've got to keep working.''

A 13th-round pick in the 2010 draft, Austin hit .354 while splitting time between the Rookie League and low-level Class A in 2011. Last year, he hit a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs as he vaulted through the farm system to finish the season in Trenton.

Austin was invited to the Yankees' major-league camp in spring training this year and soaked up his two weeks with the big club. He went 4-for-7 with two doubles in six major- league games, but more importantly, he learned from established veterans on a daily basis.

"Just the way the big-league guys put their work in every day, it's just fun to watch,'' Austin said.

Austin traces his early struggles to trying to do too much, but the slow start hasn't caused any concern.

"He's a tough kid,'' Thunder manager Tony Franklin said. "He won't tell you what's bothering him. He just goes about his business and I think he's pretty happy if his name is in the lineup every day at 7 o'clock. I think the best is yet to come for Tyler, so stick around.''

Austin demonstrated his toughness before his professional baseball career began. The Conyers, Ga., native was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was 17. The tumor was detected early and treated successfully, and Austin said it's "in the rearview.''

"It was tough going through that, but it's not something that's going to change me as an individual,'' Austin said. "I've just got to live my life and enjoy it while I can because you never know when your last day is going to come.''

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