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What's the Plan with Tyler Austin?

When the Twins added C.J. Cron and essentially tabbed him as their 2019 first baseman, the move puzzled me. Not because of Cron so much as what his addition seemed to say about the lone incumbent at first base.

Is Tyler Austin being written out of Minnesota's plans already? Or is there still a way his very specific, very potent skills could be optimally put to use?
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Up to this point, Austin has shown some ability as a major-league hitter. Through his age 26-season, he owns a .758 OPS in 404 MLB plate appearances. This year between New York and Minnesota he slugged .480 in 268 PA; that's a higher mark than Eddie Rosario finished with, and barely below what Cron produced in a career year with Tampa.

In many ways, Austin looks like the prototypical "change of scenery special." He showed promise with the Yankees but couldn't differentiate himself in a system full of big power bats. Having acquired him in the Lance Lynn deal, the Twins found themselves with a prime opportunity to give Austin a prolonged look, with first base becoming vacant, but instead they chose to go with Cron – a similar if not redundant player.

Austin's solid overall production has been highly polarized in its concentration. Against right-handed pitchers he's been ineffective, with a .211/.259/.405 slash line and 39% K-rate. Against lefties he's been DOMINANT, at .272/.345/.592 and 32%. The way to best utilize such a player seems clear: partner him with a lefty swinger who can mash righties, and let Rocco Baldelli play the platoon game while also enjoying some great strategic pinch-hitting options.

Cron throws a wrench in that, swinging from the same side as Austin. In fact, given his neutral platoon splits and his success in a full-time role this year, it seems likely Cron will be penciled as the everyday starter at first.

This leaves only one path for Austin, who's out of options next spring and likely to land elsewhere if he doesn't make the roster: designated hitter. There is still opportunity there for the Twins to leverage Austin's strengths and deploy him impactfully.

They can't trust him as full-time DH. It'd be irresponsible to go with Austin as the full-time solution, given his ugly numbers against righties. But if you equip the team with a lefty bat that can frequently plug in at DH? Then we're cooking.

Theoretically, this can be accomplished with the existing setup. Roll with a bench of Mitch Garver, Ehire Adrianza, Willians Astudillo and Jake Cave, then rotate Cave (or Eddie Rosario) through the DH spot against righties. It'd be a good way to keep arguably your reigning two best hitters (Rosario and Cave) in the lineup regularly.

Another bench construction that would intrigue me, if Garver is deemed good to go at catcher, would be swapping out Astudillo (who has an option remaining) for outfielder LaMonte Wade, recently added to the 40-man roster. He'll be 25 on Opening Day, has ample experience at Triple-A, and would help balance out a roster short on patience and plate discipline. Wade has a .391 OBP in the minors and walks more than he strikes out against right-handers.

Alternatively, the Twins could seek out another lefty bat via trade or free agency to complement Austin as a DH/bench piece. It'd need to be someone with a bit of positional flexibility since the team surely isn't gonna carry three first basemen.

These are scenarios in which Minnesota could still roster Austin and maximize his value. But the simple reality may be that they just don't see the 27-year-old fitting into their plans. Cron's addition already hinted toward this (why not just skip him and set up the Austin platoon at first?) and the reported serious interest in Nelson Cruz would be another indicator. If the Twins sign Cruz, Austin's out – that feels like a safe assumption.

In fact, signing Cruz and essentially locking him in for 600 plate appearances at DH would all but eliminate any room for creative platoons or rotations, which strikes me as odd for a team that claims to be focused on sorting out existing assets and developing its core.

Giving up on Austin wouldn't necessarily be malpractice, given that he's so one-dimensional both offensively and defensively, and so very very strikeout-prone. But based on the pure slugging prowess he showed during his short time in Minnesota this year, and his proven ability to terrorize southpaws, he certainly seems worthy of a longer look.

For his part, Austin is undoubtedly tracking the front office's movements at the Winter Meetings as closely as any fan, knowing that the addition of Cruz would turn his grasp on a roster spot from precarious to perilous.

  • Monkeypaws, mikelink45, nytwinsfan and 5 others like this

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86 Comments

I am really interested in seeing what this young man can turn into. I like your idea concerning the DH rotation with Rosario and Cave. He could also spell Cron here and there at 1B. It seems like there really is room on the roster for him. I'll be rooting for him if he is with the club come Spring Training.
    • nytwinsfan and MN_ExPat like this

I'm torn because while I want the Twins to make some signings and add a good bat to the team, I'm just not sure about Cruz. But I'm also not sure about Austin, but he's a young guy with the potential to be a solid starting 1B while Cruz is 38 and on the decline. But the Twins added Cron and they've seemingly made an offer to Cruz... so it seems to me that Austin is the odd one out, and I'm not sure I agree with that. I hope we don't end up with another bad free agent deal where it turns out we just should have committed to Austin... and in this context the Cron claiming is also odd, because it seemingly ruled out a Cruz signing. I'm confuzzled.

    • mikelink45 and ChrisKnutson like this
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LA VIkes Fan
Dec 11 2018 07:27 PM

Keeping Austin makes a lot of sense unless we pick up Cruz. I really like your idea becuse it gives us a good way to keep Cave, Kepler and Rosario each in the lineup for 500 plus ABs. I'd really like to see that happen. I see the argument for Cruz - he's a proven commodity and will be the guy next year that we HOPE Austin could someday be. Having said that, Cruz isn't part of the future and it looks more and more like next year is all about the future rather than contending. 

    • ChrisKnutson and Doctor Wu like this
I would say they decided Cron is a better option(and I agree) and Austin is a candidate as a bench bat against LH pitching. I wouldn't arrange any offseason upgrades around him as it seems like some suggest.
    • gunnarthor, PseudoSABR, LA VIkes Fan and 3 others like this

Nice speculation.None of us can figure out theFO strategy so speculation is all we have.I thought Austin should have been played as much as possible after we got him and I am sorry to think he has already been overlooked in future plans.It is a story line we will all be following, but I wonder how Austin feels.

I think the Twins might want to trade Austin and I wonder if they have some team or teams interested.They have Rooker and Wiel in AAA that are similar to Austin and they would be able to move them up and down because they have options.If Raley breaks out some they could even use him in that role.There is no shortage of guys similar to Austin in AA\AAA that give the Twins better roster flexibility.Personally I think he is gone.

    • Steve Lein, Dr. Evil, howieramone2 and 6 others like this
Look at Cave’s L / R splits: 58 (really bad) vs 123 (very good) wRC+. Similar trends in the minors.

Cave plays vs R and DH spot rotates with PH ABs too. Austin plays vs L primarily as DH and PHs for Cave, Kepler or Castro late.

Austin + Cave as one lineup spot at their career 123 wRC+ with the platoon advantage is equivalent to a top 50 bat. Obviously uses roster space, but that sounds like a productive lineup spot.
    • bluechipper, LA VIkes Fan, Dman and 6 others like this

 

Look at Cave’s L / R splits: 58 (really bad) vs 123 (very good) wRC+. Similar trends in the minors.

Cave plays vs R and DH spot rotates with PH ABs too. Austin plays vs L primarily as DH and PHs for Cave, Kepler or Castro late.

Austin + Cave as one lineup spot at their career 123 wRC+ with the platoon advantage is equivalent to a top 50 bat. Obviously uses roster space, but that sounds like a productive lineup spot.

 

It's harder to keep a guy with a big negative split against RHP because there are so many more RHP than LHP. 

    • Mike Sixel, beckmt, Platoon and 3 others like this
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SF Twins Fan
Dec 11 2018 09:13 PM

If the Twins want to try and make the playoffs next year there is zero reason to not sign Cruz. He's been a very consistent and dominate hitter for the last how many years? With Cleveland letting players go and also looking to trade away another pitcher the Twins should be playing for the playoffs and Cruz helps them get there. Austin only provides upside against lefty pitchers and isn't good at defense. No reason to keep Austin when you can upgrade with Cruz. Plenty of other similar type players in AA and AAA that could be ready this season as well.

    • howieramone2 and Minny505 like this

If I were GM, I'm keeping Tyler Austin. We have POTENTIAL options with Rooker/Wiel, but if Wiel is truly a good option he will get picked in the rule V draft thursday. Tyler Austin has homered 1 out of 15 AB's and at 400 AB's that's a 30 HR pace. Only 8 players in MLB in 2018 had a better HR/AB pace. 

 

CJ Cron has not been much better in terms of OPS and owns a 26% K rate as well. He also has not been much better v RHP. The difference between RHP and LHP for Austin was .130 different in 2018, while Cron had an .160 OPS drop off vs RHP.

 

Austin is a younger version of Cron for 4 million less, and has 2 more years of control. 

If the Twins are able to sign Cruz I would move on from the Cron experiment and put Austin at 1st and platoon him with Kepler. That way Kepler can play almost everyday and Jake Cave will get in the lineup a lot more vs RHP. It's a Win win.

 

 

VS RHP

 

1B Kepler RF Cave

 

Vs LHP 

 

1B Austin RF Kepler

 

    • bobs likes this
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jorgenswest
Dec 11 2018 09:37 PM
By WOBA Tyler Austin is Goldschmidt against lefties and LaMarre against righties. I hope the Twins can find a way to keep him as that 13th bat and start him against every lefty. He also is a good option on the bench to come in against that left handed reliever or the threat keeps that reliever in the pen.

In order to have 12 pitchers they need the back two in the pen with options matched with a few in AAA. Hildenberger is on my planned shuttle. A rule 5 guy is not in the plan.
    • gil4, Hosken Bombo Disco, Minny505 and 1 other like this

You're proposing a 4-man bench (Garver, Cave, Adrianza, Astudillo or Wade), which would require keeping a 12-man pitching staff. I don't know the answer, but how often did the Twins keep fewer than 13 pitchers in recent years?

 

Overall, in 145 PA, Austin has hit .272/.345/.592 against lefties, which looks sweet. However, in games against a lefty starter, where his stats also include all that happened after the bullpen came in, in 182 PA, he hit .233/.308/.484.

 

This past season, in 101 PA, he hit .236/.307/.539 against LHP. In games against a lefty starter, in 123 PA, .211/.285/.450.

 

Of course all of these are small samples, but the numbers suggest that 1) he may have regressed lately even against lefties, and 2) you almost absolutely have to pinch-hit for him whenever a righty pitcher enters the game. Which obviously puts a big crimp on his usefulness, especially if he bats down in the order. He might bat once or twice, like a pinch-hitting Opener, before an opposing manager could easily get rid of him. If the other team uses an Opener to start the game, Austin may not even bat once--or else Baldelli would have to choose to let him bat against a righty in the first few innings and possibly for the rest of the game.

 

If you don't trust him to do anything but DH or pinch-hit against lefties (and even that may be questionable), this is a real problem.

    • jorgenswest, Mike Sixel, SF Twins Fan and 2 others like this

 

When the Twins added C.J. Cron and essentially tabbed him as their 2019 first baseman, the move puzzled me. Not because of Cron so much as what his addition seemed to say about the lone incumbent at first base.

Is Tyler Austin being written out of Minnesota's plans already? Or is there still a way his very specific, very potent skills could be optimally put to use?Up to this point, Austin has shown some ability as a major-league hitter. Through his age 26-season, he owns a .758 OPS in 404 MLB plate appearances. This year between New York and Minnesota he slugged .480 in 268 PA; that's a higher mark than Eddie Rosario finished with, and barely below what Cron produced in a career year with Tampa.

In many ways, Austin looks like the prototypical "change of scenery special." He showed promise with the Yankees but couldn't differentiate himself in a system full of big power bats. Having acquired him in the Lance Lynn deal, the Twins found themselves with a prime opportunity to give Austin a prolonged look, with first base becoming vacant, but instead they chose to go with Cron – a similar if not redundant player.

Austin's solid overall production has been highly polarized in its concentration. Against right-handed pitchers he's been ineffective, with a .211/.259/.405 slash line and 39% K-rate. Against lefties he's been DOMINANT, at .272/.345/.592 and 32%. The way to best utilize such a player seems clear: partner him with a lefty swinger who can mash righties, and let Rocco Baldelli play the platoon game while also enjoying some great strategic pinch-hitting options.

Cron throws a wrench in that, swinging from the same side as Austin. In fact, given his neutral platoon splits and his success in a full-time role this year, it seems likely Cron will be penciled as the everyday starter at first.

This leaves only one path for Austin, who's out of options next spring and likely to land elsewhere if he doesn't make the roster: designated hitter. There is still opportunity there for the Twins to leverage Austin's strengths and deploy him impactfully.

They can't trust him as full-time DH. It'd be irresponsible to go with Austin as the full-time solution, given his ugly numbers against righties. But if you equip the team with a lefty bat that can frequently plug in at DH? Then we're cooking.

Theoretically, this can be accomplished with the existing setup. Roll with a bench of Mitch Garver, Ehire Adrianza, Willians Astudillo and Jake Cave, then rotate Cave (or Eddie Rosario) through the DH spot against righties. It'd be a good way to keep arguably your reigning two best hitters (Rosario and Cave) in the lineup regularly.

Another bench construction that would intrigue me, if Garver is deemed good to go at catcher, would be swapping out Astudillo (who has an option remaining) for outfielder LaMonte Wade, recently added to the 40-man roster. He'll be 25 on Opening Day, has ample experience at Triple-A, and would help balance out a roster short on patience and plate discipline. Wade has a .391 OBP in the minors and walks more than he strikes out against right-handers.

Alternatively, the Twins could seek out another lefty bat via trade or free agency to complement Austin as a DH/bench piece. It'd need to be someone with a bit of positional flexibility since the team surely isn't gonna carry three first basemen.

These are scenarios in which Minnesota could still roster Austin and maximize his value. But the simple reality may be that they just don't see the 27-year-old fitting into their plans. Cron's addition already hinted toward this (why not just skip him and set up the Austin platoon at first?) and the reported serious interest in Nelson Cruz would be another indicator. If the Twins sign Cruz, Austin's out – that feels like a safe assumption.

In fact, signing Cruz and essentially locking him in for 600 plate appearances at DH would all but eliminate any room for creative platoons or rotations, which strikes me as odd for a team that claims to be focused on sorting out existing assets and developing its core.

Giving up on Austin wouldn't necessarily be malpractice, given that he's so one-dimensional both offensively and defensively, and so very very strikeout-prone. But based on the pure slugging prowess he showed during his short time in Minnesota this year, and his proven ability to terrorize southpaws, he certainly seems worthy of a longer look.

For his part, Austin is undoubtedly tracking the front office's movements at the Winter Meetings as closely as any fan, knowing that the addition of Cruz would turn his grasp on a roster spot from precarious to perilous.

Click here to view the article

 

Nick, 

 

I love ya but C'mon... we can't go around quoting splits based on 242 AB's vs. Righties and 125 AB'svs. lefties over two seasons of sporadic playing time and make it mean something because it's the only data we have.

 

This is completely unfair to the player because everybody else gets to at least get closer to critical mass. 

 

I know you are trying to support him and I'm right there with ya with support for him myself but trying to salvage his value by turning him into a left handed specialist will only hasten his departure. 

 

Here's what you do with Tyler... You roster him and play him or you cut him because you have better options. And that is where my support comes in.

 

I'm not convinced that Cron is a better option than Austin and if Cron is a better option it has to be negligible because I really can't decide who is the better option. 

 

My gut says go with Austin because he makes the minimum and will make the minimum again next year while Cron's 4.8M will increase at the hand of the arbitration guy. And... And... Austin has 3 to 4 years of minor league experience playing OF which just might come in handy. 

 

But even as I say... I'd go with Austin... I want someone who can step in for him in case he proves me wrong.  

 

With that said... You can't let Austin stop you from signing Cruz. If the Twins sign Cruz... you'll have to let him go unless you make him the 4th OF'er and let him battle the other outfielders for playing time. 

 

 

    • Mike Sixel, JLease, gagu and 3 others like this

If I'm Tyler Austin... I'm finding out where Rocco Baldelli is. I'm getting on a plane and handing him a nice professional prepared resume in person with 3 YEARS MINOR LEAGUE OUTFIELD EXPERIENCE capitalized and in BOLD font. 

 

Then I tell him that I will be in Georgia this off-season shagging 1 million fly balls every single day... complete with the proper footwork and throws to the cut off man and to all bases.

 

Then I'm showing up at spring training when the pitchers and catchers report just so he knows that I'm ready to go.

 

I'm seriously looking at Cron and Bour getting released and reading the writing on the wall. The ability to play OF will save his career. Along with the ability to hit balls into the upper deck. 

    • Mike Sixel, beckmt, Monkeypaws and 7 others like this
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Winston Smith
Dec 11 2018 11:01 PM

The homeruns are nice but a guy that K's 36% of the time and doesn't have a position in the field.....

He only played a few games in the outfield after 2015. Maybe the Yankees saw something when he did?

    • SF Twins Fan and Einheri like this

Austin should start at 1B. 

 

The homeruns are nice but a guy that K's 36% of the time and doesn't have a position in the field.....

He only played a few games in the outfield after 2015. Maybe the Yankees saw something when he did?

look at their outfield depth after 2015, It has been incredible

    • Mike Sixel and gagu like this

While it's important to sort out existing assets and develop the core, there is a balance between that and being competitive in 2019, and it would be disappointing to end up with a payroll of ~$100M or less. Given that Austin's upside and flexibility are limited, and the potential commitment to Cruz would be 1 or 2 years, this seems like a situation where it would make sense to get the free-agent even if it means giving up on potential value in Austin. And we don't get Cruz, and Austin/Cave platoon at DH is a nice fall back plan.

A bench/DH bat like Austin should make the team.When that guy connects, he is a difference maker.Nelson Cruz would be an upgrade for a couple of years, probably.I could live with that.I just want the Twins to contend for the Central Division.

 

Another good article, Nick, and great discussion/read.

 

I expect what often happens in 'waiver' situations is that lots of teams put in claims, heck, why not on proven quality players...which Cron is.They were then surprised when they were awarded the player, Cron.Is picking up a player with both a track record and some talent a problem?I think not. 

 

They now have the winter and spring to decide how to sort this all out.Heck, Cron has already delivered one benefit, ie, the 40-man roster is full and they won't be doing anything in the Rule 5 on Thursday.That in itself is good news!  

    • Riverbrian, TNTwinsFan, Minny505 and 4 others like this
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woolywoolhouse
Dec 12 2018 07:11 AM
Last year with Mauer set to start at first the Twins signed a left-handed bat from Tampa Bay after he had a career year at the plate.

This upcoming season, they have Austin ready to take over and start at first and they sign a right-handed bat from Tampa Bay after he had a career year...

Is there a glitch in the Matrix?
    • Mike Sixel and Minny505 like this
Can Austin be sent down to work on that swing? We are already a low OPS team, only way he gets 300+ ABs is if Sano and Cron are horrible.
    • frightwig likes this

 

The homeruns are nice but a guy that K's 36% of the time and doesn't have a position in the field.....

He only played a few games in the outfield after 2015. Maybe the Yankees saw something when he did?

 

Maybe... I have never been to Trenton or Scranton to witness Austin in the OF myself. 

 

However, the path of least resistance in the Yankees organization was clearly 1B. 

 

It makes sense on paper to move a player from OF to 1B in their context. 

 

Leaving the questions:

 

1. How much was defense a part of that decision to 1B. (I sure wish the Twins would have gave him some OF starts in September). 

 

2. Was the Twins not playing him in the OF a clue to his ability or was it just the Twins being the Twins, locking players into static roles and not being able to deviate from it, like they have consistently done. 

 

3. Why didn't he win the Yankees 1B job. It wasn't like the Yankees had anyone holding it with both hands. 

 

 

    • Minny505 likes this

Austin was traded on July 30th.In the following 56 games he appeared in 35, including 12 starts at 1B and 21 at DH. He was in the minors for a week before Morrison went down and he was recalled.So he appeared in about 70% of the games he was in the majors.Molitor missed the chance to use him more, and he made some silly choices in those games, including starting Adrianza and Gimenez at 1B twice and Garver once with Austin out of the lineup.

 

So that one is on Molitor.

 

The Twins front office did well with signing the arbitration eligible Cron to a contract that is pretty much disposable at ST.The more competition the better, and with the ousting of Grossman, there is room for both Cron and Austin in the lineup. Austin can play RF as well.He has 339 games (2841-1/3 innings) at the OF (mostly RF and mostly in the minors) with 11 cumulative errors and 30 assists.For comparison's purpose Grossman in the minors played 726 OF games (6194 innings, mostly LF) with 22 errors and 40 assists. Their gloves are comparable with Austin having a better arm. I see him play OF considerably this ST...

    • gagu and Minny505 like this
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IndianaTwin
Dec 12 2018 08:09 AM

Hmm...

 

Nelson Cruz (through age 26)

145 games, 478 PA, .231/.282/.385, OPS+ 72, 119K, 30BB, no defensive value

 

Tyler Austin (through age 26)

120 games, 404 PA, .232/.290/.469, OPS+ 100, 148K, 30BB, no defensive value

 

Cruz spent most of his age 27 season in the minors, but came up in August and was great for 31 games on the way to becoming the ongoing monster that now has 360 career HRs.

 

I'm not saying Austin is the second coming of Nelson Cruz, but those numbers put an interesting spin on the conversation for me. 

    • Twins33, Riverbrian, h2oface and 5 others like this

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