As he entered the visitor’s clubhouse in Detroit on Friday, Tyler Austin recognized several familiar players — and one coach in particular.
Outfielder Jake Cave was his teammate at Class AA Trenton and Class AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre while coming up through the Yankees farm system.
Hitting coach James Rowson was the Yankees minor league hitting instructor when Austin was drafted in 2010 and became a professional.
And Austin has faced a number of Twins players in the minors and majors.
“I wouldn’t say I know everybody great,” Austin said, “but, for the most part, I know everybody.”
So few introductions were needed. The Twins know Austin and they know there’s plenty of power in his 6-2, 220-pound frame — and they hope to get more of it out of him.
“Tyler is awesome,” Cave said, “Big power. He’s a grinder. He’s a good dude to have on your side. He’s a big, strong guy. When he gets a hold of them, they go. Twins fans will see that.”
Austin, a 26-year-old outfielder, came over to the Twins with righthander Luis Rijo in exchange for righthander Lance Lynn, one of the six deals the club has made since initiating a sell-off in July. Austin was at Scranton-Wilkes Barre when the trade was made — playing against Twins affiliate Rochester. So he just walked across the field to join his new organization.
Before he was dealt for Lynn, he dealt Lynn a blow April 25 when he homered off him at Yankee Stadium, one of his two home runs against the Twins in that series.
In 87 major league games in parts of five seasons, Austin has 16 home runs and 45 RBI. One small problem is that he’s struck out 108 times, a pace of 201 over 162 games. But Rowson has seen Austin make adjustments throughout the minors and during the early part of his major league career. And he feels Austin is still growing into a well-rounded hitter.
“He’s learned what balls he can and can’t handle,” Rowson said, “but he does know how to handle both sides of the plate really well. I’ve seen that grow in watching him the past couple of years, his ability to handle more pitches that are strikes, and he’s got big-time pop to the other way.”
The day the trade was made, Austin immediately thought about reuniting with Rowson.
“He’s played a big role in my career, and I am happy to be back with him,” Austin said. “I don’t know if I would be where I am at without him. Just a great dude to work with and be around.
“I think he understands that the big thing is that everything is a process. I’m not going to come out and go 4-for-4 and hit .300 every year. It’s a process and you continue to get better every day.”
Austin should get a chance to show he can be more than a platoon masher (.290 average against lefthanders, .190 against righthanders) for a team looking for more power.
Miguel Sano and Logan Morrison were supposed to supply the pop this season. Sano needed to spend a month away from the team to work on his conditioning and swing. Morrison, signed as a free agent in February, struggled and now is out for the season because of a left hip impingement that twice landed him on the DL.
As a result, the Twins have hit only 114 homers, which is 24th in the league. That’s unacceptable in this age of the Three True Outcomes — walk, strikeout or home run.
Austin, interestingly enough, checked off all three of those boxes on Saturday, when he hit his first home run as a Twin in a 4-3 win over Detroit.
“Kind of a modern-day player with a strikeout, a walk and a home run in his first three at-bats,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “What today’s game seems to be about.”