This week’s installment of Knocking Down the Door features only one player ranked as an organizational Top 10 prospect heading into the season, but that doesn’t mean the other four aren’t interesting. One is a former prospect who has done a very good job rebuilding his value in 2016. One just played in the Futures Game. Another is a former 2nd Round draft pick who has been overshadowed by an abundance of pitching talent in his current organization. And the last is the son of a former big league general manager.
Tyler Austin, 1B/OF, New York Yankees (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre)
With the possibility that the Yankees will eventually cut bait and move on from struggling veterans Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, top prospect Aaron Judge had positioned himself for a call-up a month ago. But a knee injury has him on the shelf, opening up the possibility for someone else to step up. Look no further than the guy who has 19 hits in his last 48 at-bats, including four homers, five doubles and 12 walks. That would be former prospect Tyler Austin.
Heading into the 2013 season, Austin was the 77th ranked prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. He was a 22-year-old right fielder coming off of a big season, mostly between High-A and Low-A, and ready to take his talents to the upper minors. Three seasons later, Austin had failed to impress not only his own organization, who designated him for assignment last September, but the 29 other teams who let him pass through waivers and remain with the Yankees.
Primarily a first baseman these days, the 24-year-old Austin has resurrected his chances to reach the big leagues thanks to an impressive showing with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Promoted from Double-A in early June, the right-handed hitter has a .320/.417/.654 slash line in 42 games while finally showing the power (11 homers) that has been absent during his long stretch in the upper minors. Now that the Yankees appear to be “sellers” this week, the likely trade of Carlos Beltran could further enhance Austin’s chances of reaching the Bronx in the near future.
Jose De Leon, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A Oklahoma City)
When Jose De Leon was “Knocking Down The Door” way back in mid-June, he was just working his way back from injury and had dominated in a few short stints. I mentioned him as a potential late-inning power reliever, which the Dodgers lacked at the time.
Things are different these days, though. Joe Blanton and Adam Liberatore have been quite effective in setup roles and the hard-throwing Pedro Baez has been very good as of late (11.1 IP, 0 R, H, 2 BB, 12 K in last 9 appearances). It’s the Dodgers’ rotation that has major concerns, especially if Clayton Kershaw’s back injury keeps him out much longer.
While the Dodgers are very likely looking very hard at the trade market for an upgrade, they could also turn to the 23-year-old De Leon, who is now adequately stretched out to start and still dominating. The right-hander tossed four-hit ball over eight scoreless innings his last start for Triple-A Oklahoma City with no walks and 10 strikeouts. He’s also thrown just 43.1 innings this season, so shutting down the young pitching prospect early might not be necessary. It might be a combination of starts and relief stints, but De Leon could play a key role down the stretch for the injury-plagued Dodgers.
Yandy Diaz, 3B, Cleveland Indians (Triple-A Columbus)
For an up-and-coming team like the Indians with little post-season experience on their roster, a veteran like Juan Uribe is a great fit in the clubhouse. It’s not working out on the field, however, as the 37-year-old is having a miserable season at the plate (.605 OPS). With Michael Brantley’s latest setback, super-utilityman Jose Ramirez is needed more in the outfield, which means that the Tribe needs more production at the hot corner.
Meanwhile, third base prospect Yandy Diaz continues to be a hitting machine down in the minors. The 24-year-old, who signed out of Cuba prior to the 2014 season, has limited home run power but has accomplished the rare feat of compiling more walks (185) than strikeouts (163) in his Minor League career and has also slashed .308/.408/.412. Since a mid-May promotion to Triple-A, Diaz has a .915 OPS with 16 doubles, three triples and five homers. He has two hits in four consecutive games and has multiple hits in 15 of his last 23 games.
A lot can happen this week as the Indians look to bolster their roster, especially at bullpen and the catcher position. But the addition of Diaz could also have an impact as they try to capture their first division title since 2007.
Trevor Williams, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Triple-A Indianapolis)
It’s hard to stand out pitching in a rotation with two of the best prospects in baseball—Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon—and two others, Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl, also doing everything possible to earn a promotion to the big leagues. But that’s exactly what Trevor Williams is doing.
Since returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for much of the first two months of the season, the 24-year-old right-hander has slowly worked his way into form with an amazing run over his last five starts (34 IP, 3 ER, 16 H, 3 BB, 24 K), including back-to-back scoreless outings.
With Jeff Locke and Jon Niese currently banished to the Pirates’ bullpen, Glasnow on the MLB disabled list and Kuhl pulled from his last Triple-A start with triceps discomfort, Williams has worked his way from 10th or 11th on the starting pitching depth chart to possibly next in line.
Kyle Wren, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Triple-A Colorado Springs)
Some combination of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Keon Broxton and Ramon Flores was supposed to be keeping the center field job warm until top prospect Brett Phillips was ready to take over, likely at some point this season. It hasn’t worked out on either front, though, as that trio, despite Nieuwenhuis’ recent two-game hot streak (4-for-5, 3 HR) has struggled mightily at the plate and Phillips has not done enough with Double-A Biloxi. He’s probably pushed his big league ETA back to 2017.
I’m not sure what “Plan B” was when the season started, but Kyle Wren has played himself into position to be just that. Acquired from the Braves prior to the 2015 season — not long after his father was fired as Atlanta’s GM — Wren has the ability to play all three outfield spots, get on base and steal some bags.
Since a promotion to Triple-A in early June, the 25-year-old Wren has a .914 OPS with more walks (26) than strikeouts (23) and 11 stolen bases in 13 chances. With Domingo Santana slow to return from an elbow injury that has sidelined him for nearly two months, not to mention again how unproductive Niewenhuis, Broxton and Flores have been, there’s no reason why Wren shouldn’t get a look over the final two months of the season.
“Knocking Down the Door” is a weekly feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.