The Giants announced Monday that they’ve acquired first baseman/outfielder Tyler Austin from the Twins in exchange for minor league outfielder Malique Ziegler. To open a spot on the roster, they’ve designated fellow first baseman/outfielder Connor Joe for assignment.
Austin, 27, will add a powerful but strikeout-prone bat to the Giants’ outfield mix while providing some insurance should Brandon Belt incur an injury. The former Yankees prospect was at one point looked at as a potential pairing with Greg Bird in the Bronx, but the Yankees flipped him to the Twins last July in the trade that sent Lance Lynn to New York. The Twins, cognizant of the potential retirement of Joe Mauer, viewed Austin as a possible option at first base until they managed to land C.J. Cron on waivers when the Rays dumped his salary. Both Cron and Austin are right-handed hitters, and Minnesota’s signing of Nelson Cruz to man the DH spot in the lineup made Austin, who is out of minor league options, somewhat redundant.
Last season in 268 plate appearances between the Twins and Yankees, Austin batted a combined .230/.287/.480 with 17 home runs and 10 doubles. Seventeen long balls in just 268 PAs and a .250 isolated power (slugging minus batting average) speak to Austin’s ability to make loud contact, but Austin also punched out in a whopping 35.4 percent of his trips to the plate.
Austin has been more of a first baseman than an outfielder throughout his career and, in fact, has only seen 36 frames of action on the outfield grass in the Majors. He’s logged over 2600 innings of time in right field across parts of seven minor league seasons, however, so despite a lack of recent experience, he’s no stranger to the position. That said, Austin does not run well, and his lack of range is a tough fit in the spacious Oracle Park.
Joe, 26, made his big league debut with the Giants this season but managed just one hit and a walk in 16 plate appearances before being jettisoned from the roster. The Reds selected Joe out of the Dodgers organization in December’s Rule 5 Draft but traded him to San Francisco late last month. He’s still carrying Rule 5 status, so any team that acquires Joe would need to carry him on the MLB roster. The Giants will have a week to trade him or pass him through waivers, and if he goes unclaimed, they’d be required to offer him back to the Dodgers for $50K. Considering Joe’s outstanding .299/.408/.527 batting line between Double-A and Triple-A last season, it’s possible that another organization will want to speculate on his potential.
The Twins, in return for Austin, will add another athletic outfielder to the lower levels of their minor league system. The 22-year-old Ziegler was a 22nd-round pick by the Giants in 2016 and split last year between the Rookie-level Arizona League and the Class-A South Atlantic League, batting a combined .237/.340/.370 with four homers, 12 doubles, a pair of triples and eight steals in 250 plate appearances. He’s not considered a top prospect in a thin Giants farm, though Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen did make mention of him in his pre-2018 overview of the Giants’ system: “Ziegler is a lithe, athletic outfielder who was a late pick out of an Iowa Juco in 2016. He makes explosive use of his lower half during his swing but his barrel control and raw strength are questionable.”