Fresh off his tremendous Olympics performance for Team USA it feels like it’s a good time to take a deeper look at Tyler Austin and how is using his time in Nippon Professional Baseball’s Central League to turn his career around. He’s been playing in Japan for two years now and it feels as if he has progressed at such a steady and consistent pace that mashing like no other in the Olympics was the natural next step in his revitalization. How did we get to this point, well, it all starts in my abode of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In 2019, Austin was struggling with the Milwaukee Brewers. He managed to finish the season with a team that lost in the National League Wild Card game but there were clear reasons why the Brewers elected not to bring him back for the 2020 season. When you combine all three of his Major League Baseball stints that season he slashed .188/.296/.409 in 179 plate appearances. The Brewers looked at that and said, we can do better. They were right to make such a decision and when no MLB suitors came calling Austin decided to accept a contract with the JPCL’s Yokohama DeNA BayStars for the 2020 season.
During the Coronavirus shortened 2020 campaign Austin showed a lot of improvement. For the BayStars he slashed .286/.364/.605 in 269 plate appearances. His power was on full display with 20 home runs and 14 doubles. The BayStars had gotten exactly what they had hoped for from the former journeyman MLBer. Power, as evidenced by a career .486 Slugging Percentage, has never been an issue for the right-handed outfielder. Where Austin turned up his game a notch in Japan was in his ability to get on base more regularly. He didn’t do this by walking all the time either, his walk and strikeout numbers are about the same they have been throughout his career. Rather, Austin spent all of 2020 changing his approach at the plate so that balls he used to roll over to the second baseman were now finding their way to the outfield grass.
In 2021, Austin has been fantastic for an abysmal BayStars team. In 283 plate appearances, he is slashing .314/.413/.603. He has 19 home runs and 13 doubles, but he’s also generating more positive contact beyond just his power-pull stroke. It’s become routine to peruse NPB highlights and see Austin going the other way in moments when he used to try and crank the ball and produce an easy out instead. That’s a big change for Austin who even while excelling in the minor leagues did so based purely on his ability to pull the ball. The former top 100 prospect has used his time in Japan to change his profile as a hitter and the results don’t lie, 3.3 dWAR and counting this year.
That brings us to the Olympics where on an international stage Austin provided possibly the best performance of the entire games. In 24 plate appearances, Austin slashed .417/.462/.792 and was a main driving force behind a Silver Medal performance from Team USA. Contrary to what some misguided folks reported about baseball at these Olympics, he didn’t do this against a ragtag collection of derelicts. Every one of the six teams sent highly talented players who either have played, are currently playing, or will play at the major league level. With the entire baseball world watching Austin showed just how much he has changed as a hitter.
I don’t particularly care if Austin ever winds up back in MLB. He’s playing in a major league as we speak and he’s excelling. The culture and ideologies of Japanese baseball appear to have suited Austin rather well. Unless he falls off a cliff he’s on pace to have a tremendous 2021 campaign for the BayStars and there’s no reason to believe he can’t keep that up for many years to come. Austin’s days as a top prospect are long gone, but he’s only 29-years-old and that means plenty more seasons to put himself at the top of NPB leaderboards. The Brewers were right to cut him loose when they did, but Austin has turned his career around and all signs point to him continuing to climb upward.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Kyodo News