Yankees: Tyler Austin doesn’t deserve to lose his job to Greg Bird

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Tyler Austin
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Tyler Austin /

Should Tyler Austin continue to perform the way he has to begin the season, there’s no reason why he should lose hold of the Yankees starting first base job, even after Greg Bird returns.

Remember when the belief in sports was that a player couldn’t lose their starting spot due to injury? Has that myth of job security ever really been a thing? Because in 1925, Lou Gehrig filled in for Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp who was dealing with the effects of a headache, only to watch Gehrig play the next 2,130 consecutive games.

In 1996, a broken elbow sustained in Spring Traning to starting shortstop, Tony Fernandez, gave way to Derek Jeter.

Was manager Joe Torre supposed to hand the reigns back over to the veteran Fernandez once healthy, because, on paper, Fernandez was supposed to be the starter?

As we’re well aware, doing so would have been a colossal mistake, and potentially altered the Yankees’ legacy of the past 22 years.

Now, I’m sure someone is reading this saying to themselves, well, at the time Derek Jeter was the top prospect in the Yanks’ farm system, and Lou Gehrig is one of the all-time greats, so that’s why they never relented their jobs.

And while that is true, you need not look any further than Tom Brady filling in for Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Yes, Brady is now a five-time Super Bowl Champion and considered by many as the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

But long before Brady became a legend, he was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Bledsoe, on the other hand, was a four-time Pro Bowler and led the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 1996. Case in point is that Bledsoe never again saw the light of day in New England — and rightfully so.

The meaning of this history lesson

What I’m getting at is that Tyler Austin has been downright stellar filling in for presumptive first base starter, Greg Bird, to begin the first 22 games of this season.

And while I’m not necessarily comparing Austin’s ability to that of any of the aforementioned Hall of Famers, I’m clearly stating that it sometimes takes a player taking advantage of an opportunity given way by injury, to set his future course in motion.

Selected in the 13th round of the 2000 Amateur Draft, it only took Austin two seasons to garner the prestigious Yankees’ Minor League Player of the Year Award. Prior to the 2013 season, the catcher-turned-outfielder was ranked as the No. 77 prospect in baseball by Baseball America.

Unfortunately, over the next three seasons, Austin suffered a variety of injuries, that actually led to him being designated for assignment in September of 2015, and his subsequent removal from the Yankees’ 40-man roster.

However, Austin cleared waivers and persevered, putting himself back on the map with a brilliant 2016 campaign where he hit .323 with 13 homers and 49 RBI in 57 games at Triple-A Scranton.

A home run in his first major league game on August 13, 2016, seemed like the perfect reward after years of hard work. And although Austin quickly became known as a ferocious hitter of left-handed pitching, high strikeout numbers (36 in 90 PA in 2016) cast doubt as to his actual big league readiness.

Last year did little to alter the perception of Austin, as another round of injuries and ineffectiveness forced him to miss all but 20 major league games.

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In parts of three big league seasons, nothing has been handed to the 26-year-old Austin. Each time the Georgia native starts to get on a bit of a roll, he suffers some sort of setback. But my question is this; since the fanbase is so adamant that the best is still yet to come for Greg Bird, why can’t Austin’s future hold the same truth?

I’m well aware of the crush, both men and women alike, have had on Bird since 2015 — and it was only made that much stronger last Postseason, following his towering home run off of Andrew Miller in Game 3 of the ALDS.

However, as we await confirmation of Bird’s clean bill of health, it’s Austin’s resilient nature that has revealed his true nature. Even after general manager, Brian Cashman went out and signed veteran infielder, Neil Walker, late into Spring Training as an insurance policy at first base — and recently brought back Adam Lind into the fold, Austin has shewed the naysayers and begun to fulfill his potential.

Slashing an impressive .296/.377/.611 with five doubles, four home runs and 13 RBI in 54 at-bats, now is not the time to consider benching Austin once Bird returns sometime in May from the DL. 

Obviously, statistics can change between now and then, but Austin’s production in the 15 games he’s suited up in, shouldn’t be taken lightly. As of April 25, Austin’s Yankee ranks are:

  • Third-highest slugging and offensive WAR (0.6)
  • Fourth-highest batting average
  • Fifth-highest doubles, RBI, home runs and OBP
  • Sixth-highest walks (6), runs scored (11) and total bases (33)

Dan Federico recently commented on Twitter just how well Austin has played; but not before stating that if Bird can replicate Austin’s slash line, that it would be terrific.

My question to Dan is, why would we need to replicate something when the originator is already doing it so well? Besides, reproducing it would mean Austin would need to take a seat.

Even if he were to split time with Bird according to the opposing pitcher, the fact of the matter is you don’t fix what’s not broken, and you don’t bench a hot hitter.

So what if Greg Bird needs to wait his turn? With Austin hitting the way he is, as well as providing reliable defensive play, is Bird on the bench such a bad thing?

Currently, Austin and the Yankees await the ruling of Austin’s five-game suspension for the fight at Fenway. Hopefully, a five-game or less absence from the lineup does little to mess with his timing at the plate.

Next: In search of the Yankees' next great starting pitcher

Even if the appeal is denied, Austin forever endeared himself to the fanbase that cold night in Boston — and I for one, hope it’s just the tip of the iceberg concerning his continued Yankees success.