That all changes in 2020.
The MLB announced a series of rule changes that will dramatically change a player like Austin’s future outlook. He’s exactly the type of player who will benefit most from these updates.One of the challenges the Twins face in retaining Austin will be trying to fit him on the roster, which will more than likely feature a three-man bench for the majority of the season. He’s out of options, and power is typically very expensive. If the Twins place him on waivers, I have little doubt the majority of rebuilding teams would be salivating over the thought of bringing him in.
We learned today that an extra roster spot will be added next season, making it much easier for a team to carry a bat-only type player. That’s huge for a guy like Austin. One of the other significant changes coming is the three-batter minimum for pitchers. But there’s a twist.
Starting in 2020, a pitcher must either face three batters or pitch to the end of a half-inning. So it’s not a strict three-batter minimum rule, but it will make it more difficult for teams to deploy specialist pitchers. Austin has been phenomenal against left-handed pitching over his young career (.937 OPS), but right-handers have mostly had their way with him (.664 OPS, 39.0 K%). As it stands right now, it’s not always easy to take advantage of that platoon split, but it will become much easier with these new restrictions.
A lot of the focus on this rule change has revolved around how it impacts bullpen usage. While that’s certainly the most obvious element to the rule and the thing it aims to adjust, I believe this change (in addition to the extra roster spot) means pinch hitters suddenly become a great deal more valuable than they’ve been in the era of the 13-man pitching staff.
These tweaks have the potential to change a slugging pinch hitter from a luxury most teams cannot afford to shoehorn onto their rosters to a potential integral part of the makeup of each team’s bench.
While Austin’s potential value is boosted by these changes, there were already some good reasons for the Twins to try to keep him in the org. Nelson Cruz has been arguably the best power hitter in baseball over the past few years, but nobody escapes Father Time. He does an incredible job at taking care of himself but you never know when a dropoff or significant injury may come. C.J. Cron had a breakout year last season and is a much more established player than Austin, but what if he can’t replicate that success? What if he's LoMo 2.0?
The Twins are only committed to Cruz and Cron for this upcoming season, though both can be brought back in 2020 if the team so chooses – Cruz has a $12 million option and Cron has one more year of arbitration eligibility. Austin, meanwhile, isn’t set to become a free agent until 2024. The Twins also have some nice bats down on the farm who figure to be factoring into the 1B/DH conversation before too long. Brent Rooker also seems to be a big beneficiary of these rule changes, but a bat in the hand is worth two in the rack.
I have not been a big supporter of Tyler Austin in the past because it’s difficult to see much value in a player of his profile the way the game is being played today. With a tweak in the rules must also come a reevaluations of how we value certain players. While these rule changes aren’t so dramatic to cause any kind of a seismic shift, I do believe they have a significant impact on players of Austin’s specific profile.
The only question is can they find room for Austin throughout the entire 2019 season?
Full Rule Changes
Here’s a link to the full press release.
-Inning breaks reduced to two minutes. They were previously 2:05 for local games and 2:25 for national broadcasts.
-There will be a single July 31 trade deadline. No more separate wavier trade deadline.
-Updates to All-Star Game voting and a $1 million bonus to the Home Run Derby winner.
-Active roster to expand one spot to 26.
-Rosters will only expand to 28 in September instead of 40.
-Undetermined cap on the number of pitchers on an active roster. This will be determined by a joint committee.
-Pitchers will need to either face three batters or pitch to the end of a half-inning.
-Injured list goes back up to 15 days instead of 10.
Click here to view the article